Pitt delays policy agreement giving administration control of faculty intellectual property rights

PENNSYLVANIA — A new policy agreement at the University of Pittsburgh could require the institution’s faculty to sign their intellectual property rights over to the administration.

But after the agreement received criticism, the university’s provost, Patricia Beeson, delayed a Tuesday deadline administrators set for faculty and staff to sign the agreement, according to an email Beeson sent to members of the faculty senate.

A new deadline has not been set as the university begins to reevaluate the agreement.

In the email, Beeson said a task force will also go into effect early next week to form alternative suggestions that comply with the university’s existing policy on intellectual property.

The university currently has a policy that says it has intellectual property rights in its faculty’s work. But according to a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, a written agreement is necessary for a second party, in this case the university, to claim intellectual property rights.

On Tuesday, a university faculty senate committee passed a resolution requesting the delayed deadline so they could evaluate the agreement. The resolution also expressed concern “about the lack of shared governance on this issue.”

Ken Service, the university’s spokesman, said the agreement is necessary when it comes to funding patents and research in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health and National Science Fund.

“What transpired at the faculty assembly meeting earlier this week was, the university has developed a form, which we believe is in compliance with the NIH, NSF and other federal agencies, that requires some sort of affirmative acknowledgement on the part of faculty seeking grants that they are aware of and in compliance with the intellectual property policies of the institution,” Service said.

But not everyone agrees with the intentions of the initial agreement form.

“This is sort of a pretty heavy-handed way of trying to get the faculty to sign their intellectual property rights away,” said Barry Gold, a member of the faculty senate.

Gold, who is also a professor and the chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said the agreement came “out of the blue.” A memo from the provost’s office containing the agreement was dated Aug. 4, but Gold said many faculty members did not receive it until about a week ago.

If faculty did not sign the agreement, Gold said their jobs could be in jeopardy, along with their ability to submit grants and conduct research at the university.

Gold said Pitt is not the only university using the Supreme Court case as a reason for signed agreements. He also said professors are not required to sign away their rights when requesting NIH and NSF grants.

In addition to the conversations over the agreement, the university is also dealing with an intellectual property lawsuit from a group of professors, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Filed in January, the lawsuit claims the professors should have the intellectual property rights of research that could lead to a new lung disease vaccine.

Contact SPLC staff writer Michael Bragg by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 119.