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Policy & Advocacy

Intellectual Property/Technology Transfer

Technology and intellectual property issues are of critical importance to APLU institutions.

Given the ever-changing environment of technology, it is critical that public policy is similarly up-to-date and does not adversely affect the use of technology on our university campuses. For that reason, APLU is involved in advocating for Net Neutrality, preserving an open Internet and ensuring equitable access.

It is also important that public policy encourages the innovation that occurs on campus. Innovation drives our economy and improves the health and quality of life for so many by incentivizing discoveries and moving good ideas to full development and commercialization. This technology transfer process is a vital role of research universities.

Furthermore, APLU is an advocate for defending the strength of the patent system, which facilitates the transfer of campus research discoveries to private sector entities that can build on the discovery and eventually turn it into the next greatest innovation.

Issues

  • Task Force on Tenure, Promotion, and Technology Transfer

    APLU has created a Task Force on Tenure, Promotion, and Technology Transfer (TPTT) that will focus on the appropriate consideration of technology transfer in faculty personnel decisions. The Task Force will work in parallel with another APLU Task Force on Managing University Intellectual Property. After conducting a survey of current practices among APLU members, the TPTT Task Force will make recommendations to APLU and its membership on appropriate criteria and the assessment of technology transfer work as part of faculty advancement reviews.

    Faculty members who have engaged creatively in technology transfer are contributing to part of a university’s mission, whether in terms of generating intellectual property, forging ties with industry, or direct entrepreneurship. These contributions do not fit neatly into the traditional categories of research, teaching, and service.

    This Task Force is to provide recommendations on appropriate consideration of technology transfer in faculty tenure and promotion reviews, including broadening of criteria and guidance for how faculty reviews should weigh and assess technology transfer activities and their quality and impact.

    The Task Force co-chairs will be:

    • Judy Genshaft, President, University of South Florida
    • Jonathan Wickert, SVP & Provost, Iowa State University

    Additional members of the Task Force include:

    • Bernadette Gray-Little, Chancellor, University of Kansas
    • Karen Hanson, Senior Vice President and Provost, University of Minnesota
    • Peter E. Schiffer, Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    • Richard Marchase, Vice President for Research & Economic Development, University of Alabama, Birmingham

    The Task Force aims to issue its set of recommendations in early 2015. Michael Tanner, APLU Vice President for Academic Affairs, is staffing the Task Force, in coordination with Jim Woodell and Christine Keller.

  • Net Neutrality

    APLU along with other higher education and library organizations, representing thousands of colleges, universities, and libraries nationwide, released a joint set of Net Neutrality Principles they recommend form the basis of an upcoming Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to protect the openness of the Internet. The groups believe network neutrality protections are essential to protecting freedom of speech, educational achievement, and economic growth.

    Libraries and institutions of higher education are leaders in creating, fostering, using, extending, and maximizing the potential of the Internet for research, education, and the public good.  These groups are extremely concerned that the recent court decision vacating two of the key “open Internet” rules creates an opportunity for Internet providers to block or degrade (e.g., arbitrarily slow) certain Internet traffic, or prioritize certain services, while relegating public interest services to the “slow lane.”

    At its best, the Internet is a platform for learning, collaboration, and interaction among students, faculty, library patrons, local communities, and the world.  Libraries and institutions of higher education make an enormous amount of Internet content available to the general public—from basic distance learning classes to multimedia instruction, cloud computing, digitized historical databases, research around “big data,” and many other educational and civic resources—all of which require an open Internet. Institutions of higher education and libraries do not object to paying for the high-capacity Internet connections that they need to support their students, faculty, administrators, and library patrons; but once connected, they should not have to pay additional fees to receive prioritized transmission of their content, services, or applications.  

    These groups support strong, enforceable rules to ensure that higher education and libraries can continue to deliver online educational and public interest content at a level of speed and quality on par with commercial providers.  The proposed principles call upon the FCC to ban blocking, degradation, and “paid prioritization”; ensure that the same rules apply to fixed and mobile broadband providers; promote greater transparency of broadband services; and prevent providers from treating similar customers in significantly different ways.

    The full text of the principles can be found here.

  • Intellectual Property
    Since passage of the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, U.S. universities have increasingly worked through their technology transfer offices to ensure that campus research discoveries, which are often derived from federally-funded research, make it to the private sector for commercialization.  The tech transfer process relies on a strong U.S. patent system, which could unfortunately be weakened by legislative efforts in Congress, including the Innovation Act, H.R.9.

    Universities engage in technology transfer not to generate profit; in fact many tech transfer offices do not generate enough revenue to recover the costs associated with them, but rather to ensure that research can make the greatest contributions to society by growing the economy through new technological innovations, improving health with medical breakthroughs, and improving overall quality of life.

    The CAT scan and MRI, FluMist and many other commonly used vaccines, GPS, bar codes, Doppler radar, web browsers and the Internet itself are just a few of the best-known university innovations.  In 2013, U.S. universities were issued more than 5,200 patents, and research performed at universities led to the formation of 818 new start-up companies.

    The technology transfer process is dependent upon a strong U.S. patent system that allows universities to patent research discoveries and transfer the patent or license to a private sector entity that can commercialize the innovation. Without a strong patent, private sector entities would have little incentive in investing in discoveries at U.S. universities and turning them into the next great innovation.

    Given the importance of technology transfer and the strength of the patent system, APLU is deeply concerned with efforts that would weaken patents in an overbroad attempt to rein in “patent trolls” who abuse the system to extract unjust and sometimes exorbitant settlements.  APLU supports legislative efforts to target the abuses of patent trolls.  However, we cannot support efforts, such as the Innovation Act, H.R. 9, which in an attempt to get at patent trolls would make defense of patent right excessively risky and expensive.

    APLU supports measures to address the problem of patent trolls without weakening the entire patent system such as the Targeting Rogue and Opaque Letters (TROL) Act which would give the Federal Trade Commission enhanced authority to address abusive demand letters.

     

    Resources:

    :: Higher Education Association Statement on Introduction of PATENT Act, 4-30-15 
    :: 145 Universities Express Concern on Patent Legislation, 2-24-15
    :: Higher Education Association Statement on Introduction of Innovation Act, 2-5-15
    :: Sample Big Ten Patent Letter, 1-25-15
    :: Patent Coalition Letter to Judiciary Committees, 1-21-15
    :: Patent Coalition and University Sign-on Letter, 4-28-14