Since the 2005 downturn in the U.S. housing market, many have watched and been alarmed by the loss of value in their real property, but what about the value of intellectual property (IP)? In higher education, both individual faculty members and their respective institutions possess unique intellectual property rights. In some cases, individual faculty IP rights may hold and retain as much value as their real property. In the case of the academy, it has long been clear that IP rights are as crucial to its long term well being as the brick and mortar of the institution’s campus buildings. The advent of entire Technology Transfer departments and the numerous attorneys and specialists employed therein give ample evidence of the critical importance of a wide array of IP rights for both individuals and institutions.
Faculty members having spent years developing their academic research, inventions, published and to be published works, lecture notes, and other materials must on occasion, protect their intellectual property from unauthorized, uncompensated use and/or infringement by others. But how does one protect his/her IP without the enormous, draining costs of litigation?
Historically, faculty and administrators have been reluctant to stray from the passive strategy of simply avoiding disputes within the University or perhaps using the limited services of an internal policy committee or ombudsperson. Such reluctance is understandable when you consider not just the legal costs but how funding sources might view awarding additional grants to institutions and/or principal investigators haggling in a public courtroom over “ownership” rights.
Aside from their student bodies, U.S. universities are a combination of two organizational subcultures; one bureaucratic and the other collegial. Managing conflict within and between these two subcultures can be a daunting task. A skilled mediator will recognize and address both cultures if need be as he/she works to help the parties find solutions to their dispute.
And what of disputes involving entities outside of the academy? The use of Creative Commons licensing for attribution while allowing authors to prohibit uncompensated commercial use has gone a long way toward alleviating some of the basic copyright issues presented to me by several University of California, Berkeley faculty members when asked to develop courses for online distribution. Faculty expressed concern that what had been available to 30 or fewer students in the classroom would suddenly be available to millions worldwide via the Internet. What would become of their intellectual property rights? Would they receive attribution? How would they be compensated? What control would faculty have over derivatives from their original works? Although the expanded use and variety of Creative Commons licensing has helped, legitimate disputes continue to arise and can easily escalate to multi-million dollar issues when not only copyrights but patents are involved.
While it is difficult to accurately measure litigation costs, we do know that the transaction costs of litigating patent cases through to a final court decision can be enormous. One traditional measure for estimating such costs involves measuring the “time to termination.” A 2006 study of 3,700 patent cases by the University of Illinois College of Law found that “the average number of days to termination for cases with a final court ruling was 680 for 1995, 855 for 1997 and 780 for 2000.” Another measure used in this same study was the number of legal documents filed. “The average number of documents for cases terminated with a final court ruling was 174 for 1995, 183 for 1997, and 214 for 2000; for settlements, it was fifty-five, fifty-six and forty-nine. Thus, over three times as many documents were filed in the average case terminating in a ruling than in the average case that settled.”