from the hopefully-that's-policy,-not-luck dept
A lot of this goes back to the ridiculous infatuation universities have had over the past few decades with trying to justify their failing tech transfer offices. Tons of universities set up "tech transfer" offices in the 80s (at the urging of the federal government, and driven by the disastrous Bayh-Dole Act). These universities had visions of massive profits flowing back when companies used the ideas of their brilliant researchers and commercialized them. The problem, of course, is that this is not how innovation actually works. Turning pure research into a product is not a simple process, and it doesn't happen very often. Great companies are usually driven by fulfilling consumer needs, not spotting some random bit of research. But the tech transfer offices overvalued their research, insisting that the idea was the key part, and thus they should be paid handsomely for it. For the vast majority of universities that has proven to be a huge failure. Tech transfer offices cost significant money to set up and staff, however, so universities have recognized that what was supposed to be a profit center has been a significant black hole for money. In response, there's been an increased focus on trying to claim ownership of any successful startup created by students, really as a weak attempt to justify the massive disaster of their tech transfer setup.
But Harvard -- whether it was wisely or due to ignorance -- chose not to go that path. And, as the article notes, this actually has reflected quite well on the school:
Fortunately, Harvard’s minor role in Facebook’s history has attracted a different reaction: a star-studded Hollywood blockbuster, a reinvigorated reputation as a dream school for entrepreneurial teens, and warm feelings among millionaire alumni who may become large donors. By contrast, few know that modern web browsing was born at the University of Illinois, and Netscape’s embittered founders vowed never to give another dime to their alma mater-turned-adversary.The article covers a few other crazy cases, including one where a former student ended up in jail in a dispute with the University of South Florida. Similarly, the University of Missouri apparently tried to claim ownership of a popular iPhone app, because the student had entered it into a university business plan competition.
In an age where we see so much overclaiming and this ridiculous growth of "ownership society" where everyone tries to claim ownership over "ideas" they had little to do with, Harvard really does deserve kudos for not going down that path.