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(March 7, 2002, Gazette)

Intellectual property issues at Memorial
Where to draw the line


Intellectual property issues can have a significant impact on graduate students’ programs, particularly in collaborative and externally-funded research projects. To address those concerns, a committee was formed last spring at the request of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) to establish a process for dealing with conflicts between the educational process and intellectual property.

According to Richard Ellis, committee chair and university librarian, intellectual property includes not only copyright, but also patents.

“An important part of intellectual property in the context of a university is the question of authorship,” he said. “In a multiple author situation many things can arise. For instance, who is the first author listed, who do you recognize as having had a significant enough role in the paper/project to be recognized as a co-author?”

Many institutions across Canada have adopted intellectual property policies to deal with potential conflicts. At the present time, Memorial does not have an established process in place. But it is an area that is of interest to graduate students and their supervisors, especially in the areas of science and engineering, and occasionally in the social sciences and professional schools.

“Usually involved in a research project are graduate students who are beginning to build their reputations and principal investigators who may have concerns about promotion and tenure matters, as well as concerns about the productivity of the whole project as it relates to the granting agency,” said Mr. Ellis.

“There is a potential conflict here. The worst case scenario would be when a student is committed to a graduate program, has a supervisor, is working through his/her project, has a couple of years invested in the project and suddenly discovers there is a difficulty related to intellectual property.”

A problem such as this can be avoided provided the proper policies and protocol are in place. Collaborative and sponsored research is the main area where intellectual property becomes a concern.
“At one time it was almost entirely the domain of the hard sciences, but it is becoming more and more common on large multidisciplinary projects. And this is likely to spread as more collaborative and multidisciplinary research projects begin,” he said.

“We are recommending setting aside the question of ownership, and instead saying that in a collaborative environment, it is the team and not the individual who owns the data. For example, if an individual goes out and collects data on the distribution of pine martin burrows on the west shore of Star Lake, that data belongs to the project. What you do to analyse that data and the conclusions you make, belong to the individual.”

It is the recommendation of the committee that both students and supervisors look at the research contract and ask what the intellectual property issues are. This will help to resolve potential conflicts before they arise. “It is our hope that by making matters explicit at the outset, we can solve 95 per cent of the existing problems,” said Mr. Ellis.

A draft report has been forwarded to the Office of Research for input. The draft includes a general statement of policy; specific statements about authorship, copyright and patents; a draft form for the School of Graduate Studies outlining intellectual property issues; and in the case of authorship, a default position to be used when the department a student is working in does not have its own.

“We want to ensure respect for the intellectual contribution of all participants. Because we are an educational institution, intellectual property issues will be dealt with in the context of that role.”