What does Middlebury’s new IP policy mean for you? (Part 1)

At the September 2016 Board of Trustees meeting, the Board voted unanimously to approve Middlebury’s first Intellectual Property policy. The new policy is a result of a year-long process that involved input from faculty, staff, students, Board members, and external advisors. The Intellectual Property Working Group (IPWG) developed the policy after surveying the landscape of higher education policies and discussing Middlebury’s values and institutional capacity. After the IPWG drafted an initial version of the policy, we began hosting open discussions with Middlebury community members and providing opportunities feedback via a commentable draft on the IPWG website. We also developed a series of short case studies to help clarify the intent of the policy.

Middlebury’s new Intellectual Property policy is a progressive and generous policy that represents our commitment to support inquiry, creativity, and innovation at Middlebury.

The policy has four notable features:

1) An orientation toward the creator(s) of Intellectual Property that respects the creative, knowledge-generating, and self-directed work that goes into much of the Intellectual Property created at institutions of higher education.

 This value is captured in the General Rule of Middlebury’s Intellectual Property policy, Section II.(a):

Subject to applicable law, any IP created or developed by members of the Middlebury Community shall be owned by the creators of such IP.

Consistent with principles of academic freedom, this policy acknowledges that traditional academic work, whether conducted by faculty, staff, or students, is most often independently initiated and managed separately from an institution as part of an intellectual pursuit for the common good. While these intellectual pursuits may benefit the institution in tangible and non-tangible ways (e.g., a librarian conducting research on library designs for improved learning may lead to improvements in the design of Middlebury’s libraries), Middlebury does not have an Intellectual Property claim over that work.

2) An acknowledgement of Middlebury’s needs to operate and thrive in an ever-changing world.

This policy recognizes areas of work that may be done by faculty, staff, or students that are essential to Middlebury’s operations, brand, and long-term sustainability. The policy gives Middlebury claim to Intellectual Property that serves a functional or identity interest for the institution, as outlined in Section II.(b) Exceptions to the General Rule:

(1) Middlebury has an identity or functional interest in the IP. For the purposes of this policy, identity interest is defined as an interest in IP that is more integral to, and reflects more directly on, the identity of Middlebury than on the identity of the individuals who create it. For the purposes of this policy, functional interest is defined as an interest in IP that is used or intended to be used to ensure the effective functioning, coordination and management of ongoing operations of Middlebury.

Middlebury also retains IP rights for specific projects it directs and for work that receives significant institutional support. If you are working on, or plan to work on, a project that may use significant institutional resources, the IPWG recommends that you develop an agreement that specifies appropriate rights for any IP related to the project (more below).

3) A progressive perspective that does not differentiate between the academic and scholarly work of faculty, staff, or students.

Though this approach is unusual among research institutions, where staff and administrative work is considered wholly university property, we see this perspective among some liberal arts institutions, where designations about Intellectual Property are based not on a person’s role but rather the nature of their work. While most staff work will fall under designations of functional and identity interest, and will thus be owned by Middlebury, some staff may conduct scholarly and academic work that falls outside of the expectations of “work for hire.” To motivate an innovative spirit among everyone in the community, not just faculty, this policy affirms ownership of academic and scholarly work to those creators. Similarly, with Middlebury’s staff and students, this policy encourages and supports their creativity and innovation while they are participating in the Middlebury Community.

4) An orientation toward ongoing conversations about IP.

This policy acknowledges that Intellectual Property questions may arise from a number of situations and projects. The policy encourages conversations about Intellectual Property to happen as early as possible, before projects begin or as soon as possible after a project begins. The policy notes that individuals and groups may enter into IP agreements that change the ownership principles in a project (e.g., an agreement could stipulate that a project for which the creator received significant institutional resources could assign IP rights to the creator). The creation of an Intellectual Property committee, provided by the IP policy, can assist members of the Middlebury community with navigating questions about agreements.

In future blog posts, I’ll address additional IP questions and share more information about the ongoing IP Committee. On a personal note, I want to add that I was so honored to chair the Intellectual Property Working Group. The IPWG was a committed group of faculty, staff, and legal advisors who worked diligently to develop the best policy for Middlebury. When we began the IPWG process, I was fairly new to Middlebury but I was never made to feel that my newness was a barrier. The working group was welcoming and eager to develop a shared understanding about Middlebury’s values and goals related to IP. Many thanks to the wonderful members of the IPWG—I simply cannot thank you enough.


2011 04 10 Treedom XII watching Taunus in the spring image from Mark Strobl CC-BY 2.0

Amy Collier

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