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CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 2000

No Quick & Easy Fix for Intellectual Property at McGill

After a year and a half of talks and the first special meeting of the McGill senate in more than a decade, senators are no closer to approving a new policy on intellectual property rights for faculty.

On May 31 the senate was to review two sets of proposals: a draft submitted by the vice-principal (research) containing recommendations for joint inventor-university ownership, and a set of suggested amendments submitted by a senate-appointed ad hoc committee to revise the draft policy on intellectual property. The amendments proposed inventor ownership with the university having the right of first offer in the event the inventor wished to commercialize.

In a surprise move just before the meeting, the vice-principal submitted a new version calling for university ownership to take effect 30 days following mutual agreement on a commercialization plan between the inventor and the university's office of technology transfer.

"We expected a straightforward discussion in senate on the choice of ownership options in the pre-commercialization phase," said Myron Frankman, chair of the ad hoc senate committee. "Instead, the vice-principal changed his mind and submitted amendments calling for university ownership."

Frankman said discussion of a new policy has "probably been more extensive than any other policy proposed at McGill in living memory." He notes there are many areas where there is no disagreement:

  • The inventions of students are free from the provisions of the policy, unless they either wish to commercialize through the university's office of technology transfer, or are co-inventors with faculty or staff who are covered by the policy.
  • All inventors are required to disclose those inventions and software they wish to develop for commercial purposes.
  • The division of income between inventor and university is only slightly changed from the existing arrangements. The formula for income sharing is dependant on whether the inventor or the university is responsible for the commercial development of the invention or software.
  • A portion of the university's share of income will be allocated to the faculties of the inventors, and to graduate student fellowships.
  • Inventors are not obligated to seek commercial development of their work.
  • Inventors of software are free to license or distribute it without profit.
  • There is a well-specified appeal process.

After a two-hour committee of the whole discussion in the senate, a summary judgment was provided by Principal Bernard Shapiro. He noted that a coherent policy was not likely to be the outcome of the afternoon's deliberations and asked the vice-president and the ad hoc committee to meet again over the summer and present to the senate in September either one draft or two alternative drafts.

"I had hoped to be able to report here on the successful conclusion of the revision of IP policy at McGill," Frankman said in recent e-mail correspondence to the Bulletin. "While the last minute reversal of position on university ownership casts a pall, we have made considerable progress on the rules applying to ownership, distribution, and commercial rights, as well as procedures that govern the use and distribution of intellectual property."

More information on IP policy at McGill can be viewed at The site contains links to the IP policies of the other group of 10 Canadian research universities and to the Canadian Patent & Copyright Acts.