Home | IL Academe | About IL AAUP | Conference Corner | Calendar | Services | Committees | Contact Us | Grants | Reports | Links


Faculty Own Their Research, Legal Brief Argues

Recently the AAUP filed an amicus brief (.pdf) in support of the ownership rights of thousands of faculty researchers and inventors to their inventive work.  The joint amicus brief, filed in collaboration with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and IP Advocate, a nonprofit advocacy group, was submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Stanford v. Roche patent case. 

This complex case involves arguments about who owns the patent rights to inventions developed in academia and funded, fully or partially, through federal government grants.  Originally filed as a patent infringement lawsuit by Stanford University against Roche Molecular Systems, Inc., the case has evolved into a broader battle over the patents rights of faculty members to their inventive work.  In support of its patent infringement claims, Stanford University has asked the Supreme Court to interpret the federal Bayh-Dole Act as automatically taking ownership rights away from inventing faculty members and vesting that ownership interest in the members’ college or university whenever federal research funds are involved.  The AAUP, IEEE, and IP Advocate believe that this interpretation would contradict existing patent law and is counter to the process of patent assignment that has worked successfully under the Bayh-Dole Act during the thirty years of its existence.

The Bayh-Dole Act became law in 1980 and was intended to address concerns about government funding agencies’ inability to efficiently transition publicly funded research from development to application.  Thirty years later, we have seen great improvement in moving academic inventions from the research to application phase to enable public use.  In our joint brief, the AAUP, IEEE, and IP Advocate praise the purpose of the Bayh-Dole Act and argue that it is unnecessary and potentially harmful for the act to be reinterpreted to take ownership rights from faculty researchers.  The brief emphasizes that the act does not alter the basic ownership rights granted by law to faculty inventors (which faculty may then assign to their college or university by contract). 

In addressing the relationship between faculty and their colleges and universities, the joint brief strongly rejects an argument made by Stanford and other universities and higher education associations that faculty researchers are employees who have been hired to invent and therefore are not entitled to ownership of the products of their inventive research.  As the AAUP’s 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure states, faculty “are the appointees, but not in any proper sense the employees of [the university trustees].”  Historically and legally, academic researchers and inventors are, and always have been, much more than mere employees to their institutions. To espouse otherwise flies in the face of longstanding academic practice and poses a grave risk to society’s interest in a thriving culture of discovery and creation.