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Protecting our property

By Michelle Osmond

Memorial University’s research has grown by nearly 120 per cent over the last five years and if Dr. Ray Gosine has his way, it will grow just as much in the next five years.

However, Dr. Gosine, who is the vice-president (research), pro tempore, said with growth comes more research outcomes and more intellectual property to protect. So, in 2006, Memorial officials started the process of revising the university’s intellectual property policy to better protect students, faculty and staff.

Richard Ellis, honorary research librarian at Memorial, said changes in technology, an increase in the number of students, issues around web management systems, increases in distance education, and the diversity of research happening here, meant the university was long overdue for a comprehensive statement about intellectual property.

“There were holes in the scope of intellectual property and the scope of people. For example, in the old policy, there was no statement about students or staff, only faculty, he noted.

“The new policy attempts to review all of the kinds of intellectual property there are because intellectual property is a real grab bag. It includes not only copyrights and patents but industrial design and trademarks.”

According to Mr. Ellis, the old agreement was in a collective agreement between the university and the Memorial University Faculty Association. It concentrated on the relationship between the employer and the employee and was used to clarify the roles of these two groups in terms of copyright and patents.

“It was designed to ensure the university did not claim copyright of academic output by faculty and that what they produced did not belong to Memorial because whoever does have copyrights can change the content.”

However, he added, they tried very hard not to infringe upon that collective agreement, instead taking the positions embedded in the faculty association agreement and extending it to other areas like students.

The new policy dealing with students, which clarifies that intellectual property having to do with students’ contributions belong to the student, is welcome news to the School of Graduate Studies. In fact, it was the School of Graduate Studies that prompted the university to change the policies.

“Without a policy, no one knows what the terms of a research relationship might be, and students in particular are vulnerable to getting caught up in serious issues of ownership,” stated Dr. Noreen Golfman, dean of the school.

Now, Mr. Ellis pointed out, if there’s a discovery made in a lab, anyone who was involved in that discovery has a right to the intellectual property for that discovery.

Matt Fuchs, president of the Graduate Students' Union at Memorial, said the new policy is a step in the right direction for protecting students but it’s not all inclusive.

“From the student’s perspective, more needs to be done, however, in regards to a policy on corporate research and whistle blower protection. With an administration that takes leaps in the right direction, I am sure that the GSU will be working collaboratively with the university on these two initiatives.”

“I think it’s time to clarify the relationship between students and faculty in the research setting. This has been an outstanding issue for some time,” said Mr. Ellis. “The fact that I was going around turning over rocks brought about a review of other policies and has prompted other units to look at what they’re doing. It makes things clearer.”

But, he added, “Like all policies, it should be reviewed every five years so it’s still where we want to be.”