Topeka The question of whether a public university must negotiate intellectual property rights with faculty and staff will be argued Thursday before the Kansas Supreme Court.
The case arises from a 1998 dispute at Pittsburg State University.
The school adopted an intellectual property policy without negotiating with the Kansas-National Education Assn., which represents faculty there. Intellectual property includes books, articles, writings, musical compositions, works of art and inventions.
KNEA claimed that Pittsburg State violated state law that requires public employers "to meet and confer in good faith" with representatives of public employees concerning conditions of employment.
But Pittsburg State claimed intellectual property wasn't a condition of employment, and it won a ruling from the Kansas Public Employee Relation Board.
That decision, however, was later overturned by a state district court, which said that intellectual property has a direct bearing on crucial subjects of employment such as salary, compensation, promotion and tenure.
Pittsburg State, represented by the Kansas Board of Regents, has appealed that decision.
David Schauner, of Lawrence, general counsel for the KNEA, said universities generally own the intellectual property developed by their employees through university work.
But, he said, the issue is over whether faculty representatives should be able to negotiate with schools over agreements that could lead to the sharing of profits from the commercialization of intellectual property, such as new inventions.
"Literally, hundreds of universities negotiate with their employees the spoils of commercialization," Schauner said.
Schauner said a decision in the case would affect only Pittsburg State because its faculty are represented by the KNEA. Kansas University faculty have no such union representation, he said.