Renee L. Kaswan brought her campaign for greater rights for faculty inventors on Thursday to the very people charged with commercializing their research.
Invited by the Association of University Technology Managers to be part of a 90-minute debate on the issue, Dr. Kaswan told hundreds in the audience at the group's annual meeting here that she believed faculty members should have a choice in how their inventions are managed, "just like we can shop for a research grant" or choose where to publish.
Dr. Kaswan, who is known for her legal fight with the University of Georgia over its handling of an eye-care product she invented while a professor there, is also now pushing a platform of best practices, which she has dubbed an "academic inventors' bill of rights."
Intellectual-property policies at most universities don't give faculty members adequate say in how their inventions are commercialized, she said during Thursday's debate. Such policies usually require faculty members to assign the rights to their inventions to the university if the work is developed using the institution's facilities or on university time. The policies also require that the university share in any profits made on those inventions.
Dr. Kaswan argued that professors should play more of a role in deciding things like which companies are chosen to license their inventions and the terms of such agreements. Faculty inventors should have the right to choose agents to handle their inventions, she said, and not be restricted to using their institution's technology-transfer office. "Sometimes they're good. Sometimes they're not," she said of the university offices. "Sometimes they like us. Sometimes they don't."
Marcel D. Mongeon, a consultant who has worked in technology transfer, joined Dr. Kaswan in arguing for the "free agency" model (also advocated by groups like the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation). Forcing institutions to compete for the right to handle their own professors' inventions would push a university's senior leadership to take the function seriously, Mr. Mongeon said. "Are they going to do this, and do it properly, or not?"
Robin Rasor, director of licensing at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, defended the university-based system. Professors may know a lot about their research, she said, but they may not necessarily know how to move it to market. "We don't tell them how to do experiments," she said.
Commercialization of academic inventions doesn't always go smoothly, Ms. Rasor noted, but that's "a function of the invention business," in which early-stage ideas are often hard to license to companies, she said.
If a cure for cancer is invented, "it's very likely we're going to be able to license it and get a lot of money," said Ms. Rasor. But usually, "the inventions we see aren't ready to go on the market."
The technology managers' meeting, which drew more than 1,600 people from companies and universities in the United States and overseas, continues through Saturday.