Who Owns Student Created Intellectual Property? addresses issues raised by the University of Missouri’s claim on 25% ownership and two-thirds of the profits on an iPhone app named NearBuy, created by four U Missouri students and downloaded 250,000 times. The University backed off from these claims, revising its IP policy
to state that it will not claim an ownership interest in inventions created for school contests, by extracurricular clubs, or as the result of an individual’s initiative. However, if a student invention was created under a professor’s supervision or with the use of school resources or grant money, then the school can assert the same ownership right as it does for faculty inventions.
Think about this policy. The University taxes its most entrepreneurial students, the ones with demonstrated ability to create products, businesses, jobs, and wealth. After forced sharing of an early successful venture, what are the chances these students will return in 20 years to endow a chair, construct a new laboratory, or fund scholarships?
I’m in Maine this week with the dogs, enjoying the solitude. I’ve been working most of the day. I needed a break so an hour ago I played fetch with the dogs–this time I threw and they retrieved–and went to the transfer station to get rid of the accumulated trash and recyclables. It’s a short drive and the snow that started earlier this afternoon made it especially picturesque. At the station I dumped the trash in the appropriate bins and chatted with Eric, the affable and quite competent transfer station agent. Eric, as he always does, had biscuits for the dogs and, as he always does, Eric handed them to me for feeding. Cleo and Chelsey don’t distinguish much between biscuits and fingers and in their eagerness they will take in everything attached to an item of food and sort it out later. As I was leaving Eric motioned for me to roll down my window. “Your sticker expires on the 31st. You’ll need a new one for next year.” “Thanks” I said. “Are the town offices open today?” He confirmed they were.
Driving there I noticed the lack of cars. I’d driven about 5 miles and seen no more than ten vehicles, including town trucks sanding the roads. I was savoring the lack of traffic, contrasting it with traffic at home, when I arrived at the town offices. I never mind going there. The ladies who work there–I’ve only seen women behind the counter–have always been helpful and efficient.
“What can I do for you?”
“I need a new Bulky Waste sticker.”
“Where do you live in town?” I gave her the local address. She entered something in a computer and looked at the screen for a while. Then she pulled a map out from under the counter, consulted it, and entered something else in the computer. Then she looked at me. “Who are you?”
“David Randall.” And as soon as she asked the question I knew I had a problem.
“That property is owned by a trust.”
I know that, of course, but I only think about it twice a year when I pay the real estate tax bill. I owned this property originally but four years ago we transferred it to a Qualified Personal Residence Trust–a QPRT. My wife, the estate planning lawyer, knows all about these legal techniques for reducing estate taxes. Owning this property in a QPRT is a good thing for our children when we get deposited in the bins of that great transfer station in the sky, but not a good thing for me today at town hall. Only the trustee has the legal authority to act as the owner, which means that she has to write a letter to town hall on behalf of the trust authorizing the town to issue a Lakes Region Bulky Waste Facility sticker to me so I can take out trash in 2008.
When I need to explain the difference between legal and beneficial ownership I’ll send students to this post. Beneficial ownership means the trash belongs to you; legal ownership means someone else controls what you can do with it.
Someone asked about ownership of Barry Bonds’ record-setting home run ball. The recent Legal Lad podcast on “Ownership of Home Run Balls” addressed this issue succinctly so I won’t reinvent the wheel.