Intellectual Property: Who’s Minding the Store?

The Billion Dollar Question

The New York Times featured an article just last week about a huge case at the University of Pennsylvania and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. A leading researcher, now the head of MSKCC, has been accused of taking the intellectual property he developed as a result of receiving research funds from a philanthropic donor (the foundation benefactor that started the Abramson Cancer Institute at U Penn that funded his research while he was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania) to help start a biotechnology company.

The lawsuit is against the researcher, who claims he did nothing wrong, and the Abramson Cancer Institute, seeking more than $1 billion in damages.

This is an incredible case – and one to watch – as we learn who was and was not managing this intellectual property relationship between these parties.

Is IP on Your Radar Screen?

Managing intellectual property in research has become important in just about every type of project imaginable – and the best research administrator has this issue on his or her radar screen at all times.

The best offense is a good defense, and if there is ever a question about intellectual property it is best to have an agreement about how it will be managed before the work begins on the project. If intellectual property is identified after a project has begun, it is important to keep tabs on the progress of a project and bring in legal counsel if current contracts and agreements may not cover work product.

When faculty are preparing to leave and transfer to another university, research administrators also play a key role in administering policies and procedures with regard to work product and research property. University policies often outline what product must remain as property of the University and what copies a PI can take with them in order to continue their research at their new institution. By proactively planning and working with PI’s who are transferring their work to a new institution, research administrators can actively insert themselves into this process and walk the PI through the process of duplicating data and leaving behind a copy of their work.

Research administrators can play a vital role in ensuring compliance with university policies in this arena, and as the key resource personnel for PI’s on all aspects of research – we are the logical and natural choice to facilitate the transition of our PI’s from one university to another. We know the PI’s research, and we have the trust relationship. We are also protecting the university and can identify any potential issues that may arise. Any research agreement with an active IP clause already in place will typically be managed by the university’s tech-transfer office – as legal negotiations between universities will need to take place when a PI goes to a new job.

The tech-transfer office is located within the office of research structure and the grant officer for the award can always guide you in this process.

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