Universities Struggle To License Their Patents, In Desperation Team Up With Patent Trolls
from the exactly-wrong dept
A few months back, we wrote about the University of California's plan to lock up even more knowledge in the form of patents, in the hope that this would bring in lots of cash. But as Techdirt has reported time and again over the years, patenting research does not bring in more money to fund further research, in fact it probably doesn't bring in any money at all, once you allow for the costs of running tech transfer offices. Moreover, there's evidence that making the results of research freely available is much better for the wider economy than trying to turn them into intellectual monopolies.
A recent article in Nature confirms that the whole idea of patenting research is pretty much a disaster -- universities are now finding that after they have gone to all the trouble and expense of obtaining patents, nobody wants to license them:
Joy Goswami, assistant director of the technology-transfer office at the University of Delaware in Newark, estimates that only about 5% of patents are licensed at most universities. The rest are a drain on office resources, he adds, because of required maintenance and legal fees.
You might hope universities would draw the obvious conclusion -- the underlying premise of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act that started this mad rush towards patenting university work was wrong -- and go back to concentrating on producing and publishing great research. Instead, they are teaming up with patent trolls like Intellectual Ventures:
"As universities struggle to find revenue sources, one might worry that the monetization industry will be very tempting," says Robin Feldman, director of the Institute for Innovation Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. There are already signs that this is happening, she adds. Last year, she published evidence that 45 universities around the world licensed or sold patents to Intellectual Ventures shell companies.
As the Nature article notes, that violates the spirit of a 2007 memo endorsed by more than 100 institutions, which offered guidance for ethical patent licensing, and specifically warned of the risks of dealing with "patent aggregators". By selling their patents to outfits like Intellectual Ventures, universities risk completing their evolution from respected institutions that serve the public by sharing knowledge, to a bunch of desperate money-chasers that actively harm it by turning their discoveries into yet more ammunition for ruthless patent trolls.