The University of Washington is undertaking a wholesale review of its intellectual property (IP) policies, as part of a broader, ongoing reinvention of how the institution teaches, practices, and disseminates innovation in every discipline.
Former UW President Michael Young had directed the Intellectual Property Management Advisory Committee to examine the university’s intellectual property policies. Now that committee is undertaking a formal review, beginning later this month with a series of listening sessions, according to a message Thursday to faculty, staff, and graduate students from interim Provost Gerald Baldasty.
“The complex, innovative nature of the modern research university has led to changes in the way IP impacts our daily activities,” Baldasty writes. “Further, new models of interaction with external partners in government, nonprofits, and industry also challenge traditional ways of thinking about IP.”
The goal, he adds, is to “create the model IP policy for the 21st century research university.”
Presidential Executive Order 36, which covers patent, invention, and copyright policy, dates from the 1960s and was last revised in 2003. There are many other related administrative policy statements and rules, outlining, for example, procedures of the technology transfer office, CoMotion. That particular policy was updated in February with language describing the UW’s new “pre-packaged IP” program for industry-sponsored research.
That’s one of several new initiatives and unresolved questions surrounding the development and transfer of university innovation. Others include new contract engineering arrangements, faculty who increasingly want to move seamlessly between industry and academia, and ongoing efforts to streamline IP licensing. A Faculty Senate committee has also been working in parallel on intellectual property and commercialization policy.
Interim UW President Ana Mari Cauce directed the advisory committee to review Executive Order 36 “from a fresh perspective” and evaluate “whether its provisions are still relevant,” according to Baldasty’s message.
The review will unfold in three phases, beginning with a series of listening sessions—the first, focused on software code, is April 21, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in Odegaard Library—to gather input on ways the current IP system is and is not working. It’s an approach modeled on what the federal copyright office has done to gather input for revising national policies, said Sean O’Connor, a law professor and chair of the Intellectual Property Management Advisory Committee.
The committee will solicit feedback from both producers of intellectual property at the UW—including at branch campuses in Bothell and Tacoma—and consumers of it in local industry.
During the second phase, planned for this summer, the committee will use that input to “distill high-level principles about what the ideal IP policy would be” for a modern research university, O’Connor said.
From those principles, the committee will develop specific policy recommendations—anything from tinkering with existing rules to revising them entirely—for the UW president, who will work with the Faculty Senate to adopt them. (O’Connor said the uncertainty around who will be the UW’s next president should not hinder this work.)
The policy review will broaden its focus beyond traditional technology innovation issues such as patents and copyright, looking at how intellectual property is created and disseminated in the arts, humanities, and professional schools. Other listening sessions focus on principles for collaborative works, online courses, and digital instruction.
O’Connor cited an example from the law school, where faculty are developing new models for delivering legal services. Some services can be handled by paralegals or limited legal licensing technicians. Other require a fully licensed lawyer. Streamlined processes for making those determinations could warrant intellectual property protections, or at least more deliberate thinking about how the processes are stewarded and communicated outside the confines of the university, O’Connor said.
“That’s exactly why we want to look more broadly across innovation, and how IP policy impacts it,” he said.