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.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2013 @ 3:46am

    so what do they do? the very thing they have been warned against doing!! duh!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2013 @ 4:34am

    years of tax breaks paid for by years of cuts to government spending including education, then demands for government services to make profits. this was a logical possibility of political policies.

    Hence the no trolling pledge.

    Looks like it was good for only so many budget cuts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Bill, Oct 4th, 2013 @ 4:35am

    I'd buy that for a dollar.

    What did I learn at college? How to be an asshole patent troll with zero morals. They've taught me how to survive by extorting smaller companies with patents so vague they cover everything from Xerox scanners to bathroom plungers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2013 @ 4:44am

    The USPTO does not provide what I would consider essential services. Shut it down.

    They can not simply choose what to fund and what not to fund, that is not how it works. If that is the desired method then they should pass a law making it so.

    They freely wag their finger at the public stammering about rule of law while blatantly violate it. But, I suppose this is nothing new is it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2013 @ 4:56am

    Actually moving patents into the university-sphere was a logical step to stop some of the brain-drain done by investers who grabbed the best researchers before they ended their education.

    The problem is not the patents themself. The number of patents has simply become far too large for investers to sift through. That governemts in the world push for more patents is a sign of a the number-driven delusion that more patents are better patents and more patents are more innovation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2013 @ 5:12am


    "the best researchers before they ended their education"

    The best never end their education, what are you talking about.
    Possibly you attempted to address that time when a person moves from university to some other endeavor.

    Patents are a leech upon society and need to be removed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    roarshock44, Oct 4th, 2013 @ 6:41am

    all you need to do is look at college athletics - and particularly football - in the u.s. to see how ethical colleges really are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Niall (profile), Oct 4th, 2013 @ 8:17am


    Trouble is, it's self-funding, which is part of the problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    DannyB (profile), Oct 4th, 2013 @ 10:52am

    Re: Re:

    I don't have a problem with the USPTO being self funding. That is not the fundamental problem.

    Just change the self funding rules.

    Cost to get a patent granted: zero.

    Cost if your patent application is rejected: very high.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    DannyB (profile), Oct 4th, 2013 @ 10:54am


    At least patent examiners do not take showers with underage boys.

    At least, I don't think so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2013 @ 12:38pm

    I wonder who will be the first to patent the method of patenting patents to license them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Hide this ad »
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Chat
Hide this ad »
Recent Stories
Advertisement - Amazon Prime Music
Hide this ad »


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.