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Committee revises conflict policy to clarify software ownership

STANFORD -- Responding to concerns raised at the Faculty Senate, the Committee on Research has revised and clarified a controversial provision in its proposed conflict of interest and commitment policy.

Under the proposed revision, title to copyrighted software would remain with the creator unless contractual obligations specify otherwise, and title to patented software would be assigned to the university.

The changes were among several made by the Committee on Research on Friday, April 8, in response to the initial discussion of the proposed policy at the Faculty Senate on March 31.

The senate will continue its discussion on Thursday, April 14, and is expected to vote on the document.

Committee Chair Craig Heller, biological sciences, explained his committee's views in a letter to Campus Report.

Heller said that some faculty have missed the point - that his committee has been focused on conflicts of interest and commitment, not on the nature of software.

"A major component of our proposed policy," he wrote, "is a more uniform application of the principle of university ownership and management of intellectual property rights than currently exists."

At its recent meeting, the committee rewrote section 5, "Disclosure and ownership of intellectual property."

In an interview, Heller said that although the Committee on Research believes that in principle the distinctions it laid out in the earlier draft were valid, the effort that would be required to make case-by-case decisions would be too great.

Where the earlier version of the document stated that "all technologies" created by faculty must be disclosed to, and ownership assigned to, the university, the new version substitutes the language "all potentially patentable inventions."

The old version defined "technology" as including inventions, tangible research property and copyrightable works, but went on to say that title to books and other scholarly works would remain with the creator. The revised proposal says simply that "invention" includes tangible research property.

The amended section 5 also lays out situations in which rights to non-patentable software would not vest with the creator: when the work is "supported by a direct allocation of funds through the university for the pursuit of a specific project"; when it is commissioned by the university; or when it is "otherwise subject to contractual obligations."

Faculty and student creators would jointly own non- patentable software they develop, but title to software created by faculty and staff members would be jointly owned by the faculty and the university.

The policy warns faculty to be aware that the creation, upgrade or maintenance of software that can be commercialized could lead to the same types of conflicts as patentable inventions. This can be avoided by voluntarily assigning copyright and licensing authority to the university, the document states.

The proposal now clarifies that the university has approximately 60 days to proceed with a patent, otherwise ownership could be reassigned to the creator.

In other changes, the committee added to section 2, "Limitations on outside professional activities," a provision designed to deal with conflicts that might arise when a faculty member's outside projects are similar to his or her Stanford work.

The policy states that "whenever faculty members are involved in research as part of their outside consulting or business activities, they must establish clear boundaries that separate their university and outside obligations, so as to avoid questions about their appropriate use of resources and attributions of products of their work."

In section 8, "Certification of compliance," the committee added language giving schools the option of designing their own compliance forms. School forms must include, at a minimum, the information and questions from the university form, and schools can seek additional information.



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