UT System to revise intellectual property policy to clarify ownership of student-originated ideas

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The existing UT System Intellectual Property Policy will be revised to clarify language discussing ownership of student ideas and creations following legislation passed in the Senate of College Councils.

Intellectual property refers to a wide range of ideas and research products, including discoveries, inventions, writings and software produced by University employees and students. In certain situations, the UT System Board of Regents or a specific University owns intellectual property created by its employees under conditions outlined in the UT System Intellectual Property Policy.

Meagan Abel, academic policy committee co-chair and author of the legislation, said there are no clearly stated guidelines in the policy for addressing cases involving students.

“The focus of the legislation was this idea that when students come up with an idea that is profitable and patentable, how can they go through the motions of having that done?” Abel said. “We would like the policy to have clear language that references students.”

Currently, the policy states its guidelines apply to System and University employees, and “anyone using the facilities or resources of the UT System or any UT System institution, including, but not limited to, students enrolled at a UT System institution.” The body of the policy addresses the procedures in place regarding intellectual property generated by employees, but does not include language overtly addressing the property of students. 

The Senate submitted the legislation to the System after it was passed in November. Abel said she hopes a change in the wording of the policy will encourage students to pursue research and the development of their ideas.

“With seeing how much students are creating software and apps, we just felt that there’s a larger amount of students in a capacity to create things that are in this gray zone of ‘is it copyrighted’ or ‘is it patented, and if it’s patented what’s the policy’, all of that,” Abel said. “We feel that the climate isn’t moving in such a way that students would feel inclined to create some of these things.”

Juan Sanchez, the University’s vice president for research, said he met with members of the UT System and Daniel Sharphorn, UT System Interim vice chancellor and general counsel, on Oct. 11 to discuss the possibility of addressing student intellectual property in existing policies.

“As far as I know, the University of Texas at Austin has never ever claimed IP that we believe belongs to a student,” Sanchez said. “It’s just that the policy is not clear about it, and it creates confusion unnecessarily. I think that aligning the wording of the policy with practice and what we think is the right thing is good policy.”

According to Sanchez, Jim Phillips, a UT System attorney, said the System is planning to address concerns raised in the legislation.

“[Phillips] told me they’re working on either modifying the IP Policy, which will probably need to go to the Board of Regents, or issuing a clarification that we, the campuses and the students, can use,” Sanchez said. “It is in their hands. I think there is general agreement as to which way we should go, and that’s all I know at this point.” 

Sanchez said he thinks by clarifying the regulations regarding student intellectual property the University will potentially influence policies at other schools as well.

“I think it is extremely important to pursue this issue because I believe that most universities in the U.S. are overreaching when they claim the intellectual property of students who are not employees of the University,” Sanchez said. “I think that we will be making significant progress for the entire community if we are very, very clear and explicit about that.”