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February 19, 2001

Intellectual property rules
under review

By Michael Terrazas

Emory is in the process of revising its policy on intellectual property rights. Formal discussion has been under way for nearly a year and is due to intensify over the next few months, as the administration unveils a new draft of the policy in hopes of having something finalized by semester’s end.

“There is [an existing policy] that was adopted before current technologies had been extensively incorporated into the academic world and before the push for the academy to exploit the intellectual property it develops,” said Harriet King, senior vice provost for academic affairs. King said the effort to update the policy began a few years ago when then-Vice President for Research Dennis Liotta recognized a need to modernize the University’s technology transfer policy.

Last April, the provost’s office released the current policy draft and invited faculty to respond. King said a faculty meeting was held in late October 2000 to discuss the policy, and the issue also was brought up in January’s Faculty Council meeting. Based on the comments from faculty through these various channels of communication, King said the administration will have a revised draft available within a month.

This new draft will be posted on the provost’s office website, where the current draft is available at

One clause of the current draft that raised some faculty eyebrows was a paragraph stating that the University owns all intellectual property “made or created by Emory Personnel [sic] if the Intellectual Property either (a) is related to the Emory Personnel’s assigned work (including clinical duties), course of studies, field of research or scholarly expertise, or (b) was made with the use of Emory Support,” and that a faculty member wishing to own or transfer these rights would have to obtain a release from the University.

At the Faculty Council meeting, some members wondered aloud what sort of academic publication would fall outside such an umbrella. But King emphasized that the new policy will not lay claim to any traditional scholarly work that had historically has been owned solely by individual faculty members; if faculty have traditionally owned the rights, King said, they will continue to do so in the future, with no need to file for a release.

“When you read the policy, I would see why you come to that conclusion [that the new policy infringes on traditional faculty rights],” King said. “But the work-for-hire doctrine, which would be the basis of the [University’s] claim, has within it an exception for scholarly works. In the next draft, we have made that very clear that Emory is not claiming traditional scholarly works.”

Instead, what might fall under the new policy are multimedia publications. For example, David Kleinbaum, a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health, is working on an electronic textbook on epidemiology. Though he is using no “extra” University support—in the form of technical expertise from the Information Technology Division, for example—it still took Kleinbaum many months and $8,000 of his own money in legal fees to negotiate for Emory to relinquish ownership and royalty rights to the project.

“I thought this would be a seamless process, but it really took a very long time,” Kleinbaum said. “What about other people? What are they going to have to go through?”

King said such instances are less about the University looking to make money off the backs of its faculty than trying to grapple with entirely new phenomena within the world of academic publishing. Finding a policy equitable to all parties will be difficult—but hopefully not impossible—work, she said.

If it’s any consolation to the Emory community, Vice President for Research Administration Frank Stout said many, if not most major universities and research institutions are either dealing or recently have dealt with the exact same issues.

“Ultimately, what will happen is we are not going to address everything—there is going to be some group within the faculty that we’ve missed but not intentionally,” Stout said. “The faculty will appropriately make their concerns very well known, and we will take a look at the law, take a look at precedent, and we’ll look at what peer institutions are doing.”


Back to Emory Report Feb. 19, 2001