No let-up on IP deadlock

August 15, 2003

Cambridge University academics may seek a ballot to break the deadlock over changes to intellectual property ownership, despite new proposals put forward by one of Britain's leading IP academics and barristers.

Frustrations may force a vote by Regent House, Cambridge's body of academics, after what many see as a disappointing report last week by the university's working group on intellectual property rights. The group was chaired by Bill Cornish, Herchel Smith professor of intellectual property law.

The Cornish group was set up to break the stalemate over proposals put forward by the university last year. The original proposals ran into opposition because they sought to change academic contracts so that "the university should assert ownership over all intellectual property generated by its employees in the normal course of their duties".

This week, Ross Anderson, a computer scientist and one of the most vocal opponents of the original proposals, said Regent House would not accept the latest model and was likely to push for a ballot.

He said the terms of reference for the report were too narrow. "The working group was asked to inquire if a watered-down version of the 2002 report was acceptable to Regent House. It said they might get away with grabbing patents but not copyright. We have been deprived of a broader analysis of the issues."

The Cornish group's report recommends that academics retain all rights to copyright and to "know-how" or confidential information relating to the idea. In the case of patentable research findings, ownership rights would remain with the academic until he or she decided to exploit them. Only at this point would the university take over ownership.

Tony Minson, pro vice-chancellor and a member of the working group, said:

"The core proposal is that academics own their results and have the right to disseminate and publish them without regard to the technology transfer office and university."

Professor Minson said that the university would have a responsibility to make academics aware that if they placed the information in the public domain, it could no longer be commercialised.

While most universities have changed their policies following the 1977 Patent Act, Cambridge has allowed academics to retain full ownership.

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