WMU News

New policy guiding intellectual property approved

Nov. 3, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- Western Michigan University's Board of Trustees has approved a new University-wide policy, which is designed to serve as a guideline for the ownership, distribution and licensing rights of intellectual property developed by WMU faculty, staff and students.

The policy, which has been in the works for two years, was presented to trustees by Dr. Donald E. Thompson, vice president for research and dean of the Graduate College. It is the first revision of such policy since the 1960s and it was developed by the WMU Faculty Senate's Research Policies Council, with assistance from Thompson's staff. The new policy was modeled after policies at other research institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of North Carolina, Texas A&M University and Stanford University.

After a number of revisions, the policy was approved by the Faculty Senate earlier this year and forwarded to Thompson and WMU Provost Fred Dobney for review and presentation to trustees.

"With our dramatic growth in research in recent years, we've undergone an incredible increase in the number of products that can lead to patents or copyrights," Thompson says. "Our earlier policies and faculty contracts focused on the distribution of revenue from these products, but never clearly addressed issues of ownership. Ownership guidelines are critical in assuring that the products of University research become available to the public and that the rights of individual researchers are protected as well."

The new policy is divided into two parts. The first part is a "Guide to the Ownership, Distribution and Commercial Development of Western Michigan University Technology." That section outlines the basic principles of ownership for the products of research done at the University, the handling of royalties, licensing, copyrights conflict of interest, patents, trademarks and general commercialization guidelines.

The second part is a "Policy on the Retention and Access to Data." That portion of the policy covers such areas as ownership of data, what kinds of data must be kept and for how long that data must be retained, access to the data, and what happens to data when researchers leave the University.

The policy was developed, Thompson says, to assure that the University is in compliance with new federal regulations on making data public and to protect intellectual properties by having in place a clear policy that makes the University's stand on intellectual property rights explicit.

"We haven't visited many of these issues for a very long time," Thompson says. "It is critically important that we have very clear language in place to protect the research enterprise and ensure that our records are accurate and appropriate and that technology developed here is made available in a way that best serves the public."

The policy is applicable to all University research, whether funded or not, and also addresses such issues as student research done as a class requirement or for completion of a thesis or dissertation.

Dr. William Wiener, senior associate dean of the Graduate College, served as head of the Faculty Senate's Research Policies Council for 1999-2000, the period when development of the new policy was completed. He says the policy will work well for the University.

"I'm pleased with the approval of this policy because I think it strikes a nice balance between protecting the rights of students and faculty members and respecting the interests of WMU," Wiener says. "When faculty and students are acting as agents of the University, then the University owns the research records, but when faculty and students are working independently, the records are rightfully theirs."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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