Student ideas, inventions may be UK property

By Gary Hermann

In this technological age, people like Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg can invent new products and start companies while still in college.

The question still looms as to whether a university has ownership to what its students, faculty and staff create.

UK does have official guidelines regarding the intellectual property of its faculty, staff and students.

According to UK Administrative Regulations, Developments in recent years have broadened the scope of information and technology that can have potential commercial value and that, therefore, should be treated as assets subject to university ownership and control.

UK’s current Intellectual Property Disposition and Administrative Regulation went into effect on June 22,1993.

The UK “policy covers all intellectual property conceived, first reduced to practice, written, or otherwise produced by faculty, staff or students of the University of Kentucky using University funds, facilities or other resources,” according to administrative regulations.

Not all intellectual property is controlled and owned by the university. Whether significant university resources were used is a determinant in whether intellectual property is claimed by the university, said Don Keach, Intellectual Property Development Director in Commercialization and Economic Development.

“Traditional products of scholarly activity which have customarily been considered to be the unrestricted property of the author or originator are excepted from the general policy,” according to administrative regulations.

Keach said the Intellectual Property Committee generally rules that things like articles and books are traditionally done by scholars.

“When a University faculty member, staff member or student develops or originates an item of intellectual property which, under the terms of this policy is to be owned and controlled by the university, the individual shall report the intellectual property to the Intellectual Property Committee,” according to administrative regulations.

UK helps these creators get their ideas off the ground.

“The university pays the expenses for the patent,” Keach said, “so the university employee is not out any money for the patent application.”

The university having control and ownership of one’s intellectual property does not mean the person is removed from the commercialization process for their property.

According to administrative regulations, “A primary objective and responsibility of the university shall be to assure that the products of its intellectual activity are brought into the widest possible use for the general benefit of society.” Also, “Active originator participation in all commercialization efforts shall be vigorously sought.”

Alan Scher Zagier of the Associated Press recently reported on a case of intellectual property involving University of Missouri student Tony Brown, who “came up with an idea in class one day that spawned an iPhone application that has had more than 250,000 downloads since its release in March 2009.”

In his report, Zaigier said, “The invention also raised a perplexing question when university lawyers abruptly demanded a 25 percent ownership stake and two-thirds of any profits.”

UK specifically lays out percentages for commercialization of its intellectual property.

“Commercialization of intellectual property covered by this policy shall be shared as follows: 40 percent to the originator, 20 percent to the originator’s department or immediate administrative unit, 20 percent to the dean of the originator’s college and 20 percent to UKRF (University of Kentucky Research Fund),” according to administrative regulations.

Intellectual property is in large supply on our campus.

“We usually in an average year will get about 80 disclosures,” Keach said. “50 of them the university has an interest in; we should look at pursuing those 50. Generally in a year, we file about 25 patent applications.”