When universities invent, they can choose to file patents and sell or license those patents to third parties. Most research universities have technology transfer programs that work to commercialize university inventions, which can including filing and selling or licensing patents.
Unfortunately, many of those patents end up in the hands of patent trolls. Patent trolls, or non-practicing entities, are companies that do no nothing but buy up patent rights and threaten other companies with lawsuits.
Why are universities selling patents to trolls? Shouldn’t universities be more interested in selling their inventions to companies that will actually do something with them? After all, those inventions were paid for in large part by the public in the form of federal and state funding, students’ tuition dollars, and private donations. We think that universities shouldn’t just look for the highest bidder; they should find partners who will do great things with their inventions.
That’s why we’re asking universities across the U.S. to sign the Public Interest Patent Pledge, a simple promise that before selling or licensing an invention to a third party, they will investigate that third party’s practices and make sure they’re not selling to a troll. Any college or university can sign. Together, we can make a statement that universities want more innovation-friendly laws and policies nationwide.
It would be impossible for any one organization to persuade every college and university to sign the pledge, so we’re turning to our network of local activists in the Electronic Frontier Alliance and beyond. We’ve created a petition that anyone can use to gain support in their university community. When students, alumni, faculty, and other community members all speak up, universities listen.
We’re also asking state legislators to consider introducing bills to bar state-funded universities from transferring patents to trolls. We’ve put together some sample text that states can use and are eager to work with lawmakers.
EFF is proud to partner with Creative Commons, Engine, Fight for the Future, Knowledge Ecology International, and Public Knowledge on this initiative.
Let’s reclaim invention.