To the editor:
I think it would be prudent to grant professors rights to patents they develop while temporarily off the KU payroll. This perk would help KU compete for top professors against universities not saddled with anti-university forces in the Statehouse. Granted, patent revenues might be lost to KU, though I think the amounts have been exaggerated. Also, it is difficult to establish exactly when a given patent idea was actually developed, but manageable record keeping can support reasonable compromises.
Nevertheless, I think most of the AAUP’s arguments for the same policy are without merit (Feb. 28 Journal-World).
“Ethics.” There is no ethical obligation to allow outside collaboration with profit-making companies. Instead, these collaborations constitute potential conflicts of interest that need to be carefully regulated.
“Fairness.” Patent law has never had fairness as a goal. Patents are unfair temporary monopolies granted by government to encourage research and development. Patent rules are simply prudential decisions.
“Incentives.” Professors have institutional incentives to do research even in the absence of patent rights. They are hired for that exact purpose. Moreover, commercial incentives may interfere with the prestige incentives that drive good science.
“Academic freedom.” Academic freedom refers to freedom of speech, not freedom of commerce. Its purpose is to support the wide dissemination of knowledge, not profit.
The idea that universities should support commercial development is relatively recent, not universally accepted, and in potential conflict with fundamental goals of education and dissemination. Each university needs to find its own way in this complex landscape.