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Who Owns Student-Created Intellectual Property?

When teens select a college, they have historically considered factors like the school's cost, academic programs, location and climate. Now it seems they should consider whether a school will claim an ownership right if the students create a new invention while attending the school. That's what happened to University of Missouri student Tony Brown, after he and three fellow students created NearBuy, an iPhone application intended to help track local apartment rentals.

According to Yahoo News, the university initially demanded 25 percent ownership and two-thirds of the profits from the app, which has been downloaded more than 250,000 times. The university has since revised its policy to state that it will not claim an ownership interest in inventions created for school contests, by extracurricular clubs, or as the result of an individual's initiative. However, if a student invention was created under a professor's supervision or with the use of school resources or grant money, then the school can assert the same ownership right as it does for faculty inventions.

Universities tend to have more established policies regarding inventions created by their professors; however, school policies related to student inventions may still be lagging behind social changes and the general pace of technology. Given that student inventions have the same potential for success as faculty inventions, it is foreseeable that other universities could also rewrite their policies to state that they own everything created by a student that involves the use of any university-provided resources (i.e., Internet access, dormitory rooms, etc.). Students in this position would be forced to surrender some or all of the control of their products and profits. A school with such a policy might also be able to claim ownership rights in student copyrights for any literary or artistic works that they create and even the profits from advertisements that run on students' blogs.

Thankfully, some universities see value in promoting entrepreneurship and restrain themselves from laying claim to student inventions. Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh and Yale University are among the schools that encourage students to create new inventions and launch businesses by providing incubator space and faculty guidance for their endeavors, which saw the formation of dozens of new businesses and millions of dollars raised in startup capital.

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Posted by Laurel Newby on January 24, 2011 at 05:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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