Iowa universities shift policy on intellectual property

Companies that consider partnering with Iowa’s larger universities on research projects received more incentive to do so Thursday.

University of Iowa and Iowa State University officials said they would now allow businesses to negotiate deals for intellectual property or technology that comes out of research before the work begins.

In the past, deals were negotiated only after research yielded results, meaning uncertainty for businesses.

State officials expect universities and colleges to become greater economic engines, turning research and expertise into businesses, growth and jobs.

The University of Iowa’s Daniel Reed said the goal of the new program is to encourage businesses to partner with the schools.

“One of the things businesses really prize is certainty in both time and cost,” said Reed, the school’s vice president for research and economic development.

“We are trying to pull that uncertainty out of the equation. In the traditional model of independently funded research, they don’t know what might emerge that could be valuable. It could be nothing, it could be amazing or anything in between,” he said.

Reed, a former Microsoft vice president, has been on both sides of the negotiating table.

He said the economic downturn made it clear to businesses and universities alike that working together would benefit both entities. Out of that has emerged a trend among universities across the country that allows pre-negotiated deals for a fee.

Patent attorney Emily Harris of Des Moines-based Davis Brown Law Firm lauded the new option.

“It’s something our clients have been asking for a long time,” Harris said. “It’s good to see the universities keep up with the positive trend in this kind of thing.”

Harris said her firm negotiates between 30 and 50 intellectual property deals per year. She said the policy shift will make it more enticing for Iowa-based companies to reach out to their local schools rather than take research out of state or even out of the country.

“It shores up their intellectual property rights and gives them more confidence and security,” Harris said. “This should make the companies want to work with these universities even more.”

Iowa State University’s David Oliver said the changes came about when university officials sought a way to work with industries more effectively.

“The basic idea is to try to cut down the red tape and increase the options available if we have a combination of a faculty member and industry partner that want to work on something, they can do so in a more flexible operation,” said Oliver, the interim vice president for research and economic development. “This has been something that has been discussed quite a bit among people that manage intellectual property.”


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