Scenario-Intellectual Property Rights and Responsibilities: A Student's Guide
(This is the scenario I presented to interviewees for discussion. Though this scenario was the base case for discussion, many sub-scenarios were generated and discussed as well.)
Student X1 is a graduate research assistant in a laboratory involved in developing an innovative technology that is of significant commercial interest. There is a total of three graduate students involved in this particular cutting-edge research under the guidance of Professor Y. This project is partially supported by an industrial sponsor, with the National Science Foundation providing the rest of the funding. Although the research has yet to reach a stage where it might be commercially viable, the industrial sponsor wishes to be the first company to capitalize on this technology when the research has reached such a stage. The National Science Foundation's interest in sponsoring this project is primarily because this project offers a rare opportunity to advance scientific knowledge in an entirely new area.
Student X1 and his colleagues, X2 and X3 were originally attracted to this project because of the opportunity to be at the forefront of research. Each of these three graduate students are especially enthusiastic about their work in the laboratory as new discoveries are constantly being made. Professor Y has been very supportive with providing guidance on the project. Professor Y stresses the educational value of such an opportunity and is especially pleased with the enthusiasm that his graduate students exhibit.
Students X1, X2 and X3 are close friends and they each work on areas of the research that complement one another. As it turns out, these students are nearing graduation (to within a semester or two of each other). One Friday evening when they were having their weekly after-work get-together, the topic of discussion turned to matters concerning their professional goals. They decided that they would like to work together and set up a company of their own. After all, what could be a better opportunity for a group of graduate students who work well together than to stay together, and go on to business? Being engrossed with their research, they can only think of setting up a business which would bring their present research to fruition and into the commercial realm. After all, this is where their expertise lies.
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Scenario-Based Interview Questions
- What must these students consider in order to respect the intellectual property rights of the industrial sponsor?
- Where can they go to obtain answers on this topic? Is there an office in MIT where X1 and his colleagues can go to for assistance? What kind of assistance can they get?
- How is NSF's requirement for public disclosure balanced against the industrial sponsor's need for confidentiality?
- What are the criteria for determining how much of what is learned in the laboratory is considered confidential intellectual property and how much of it is considered reasonable to be made use of by this group of students? Are There any skills that a graduate student acquires from research that the industrial sponsor has a right to prevent the student from using?
- What are the right and responsibilities of X1 and his colleagues?
- How would the scenario outlined above be treated differently if X1 and his colleagues were working in a commercial company doing the same research and development work?
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- Nelsen, Lita. Director, Technology and Licensing Office.
- Anonymous Information Systems, Intellectual Property Counsel
- Anonymous Office of Sponsorship Program, Assistant Director.
- Rowe, Mary. President's Office, Special Assistant to the President, Ombudsperson, Adjunct Professor of Management.
Cite this page:
"Scenario-Intellectual Property Rights and Responsibilities: A Student's Guide"
Online Ethics Center for Engineering
National Academy of Engineering
Accessed: Tuesday, May 21, 2013