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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 1999

McGill University Grab for Intellectual Property Rights

If the McGill University administration has its way, faculty ownership of marketable inventions at that institution will be a thing of the past. Under a proposed new intellectual property policy, such discoveries will no longer be shared jointly by the inventor and the university. Rather, the university would be the sole owner.

McGill Association of University Teachers president Myron Frankman, who opposes the change, says the existing joint ownership policy works well and provides an equal voice for both individual faculty and the larger university community in the development of discoveries.

"But venture capital wants one-stop shopping when it comes to acquiring rights in an invention," said Frankman. "Rather than sort out which faculty member owns what, investors want to deal on an exclusive basis with university administrations."

"This issue is one of business efficiency versus faculty rights," said Frankman.

According to Frankman, the motivation is not a desire for more money for university coffers. "The strongest proponents of the proposed policy freely admit it is not going to solve the university's financial problems. By their own figures, revenue from commercializing faculty research will account for less than 1 per cent of total university budgets," Frankman noted.

CAUT president Bill Graham said the McGill administration initiative follows from the report of the federal government's Expert Panel on the Commercialization of University Research. "Mandatory university ownership of intellectual property is a cornerstone of the expert panel's report," he said.

"This particular proposal is part of a larger national effort to strip the faculty of intellectual property ownership and reconfigure university research to cater to the needs of private industry" said Graham. 'Not only does this agenda undermine the process of free collective bargaining, but it is also a direct threat to academic freedom."

In its published rationale for the proposal, the McGill administration cites the expert panel's report as a major justification for the new policy.

According to Frankman, adoption of the proposal at McGill is not a foregone conclusion. "Opposition to the policy is growing," he said. "Without faculty support, it will be very difficult for the administration to implement their plan."