To mark World IP day on Sunday, the Intellectual Property Awareness Network (IPAN) is holding its 5th Parliamentary event entitled "IP : a 2020 Vision" today (23rd April) in the Conference Room of the BPI at County Hall, across the Thames from Portcullis House. Given the forthcoming election, quite how well attended the event will be by parliamentarians, remains to be seen. But the need for events like this to raise the awareness of the importance of IP are amply demonstrated by a recent article in the Times Higher Education (THE). THE surveyed just under 70 universities in the UK and found that a significant number of them (just under 20%) required their students to sign over all intellectual property rights in their work to the university as a condition of enrolment, while handful of others asked for the rights to be transferred or to be licensed to the university.
Clearly the IP covered by such policies will range from copyright in a student's course work, through design right, to in some cases to patents arising from academic research. It remains unclear how much students understood about these rights when they were asked to sign them away. These policies are understandable from the point of view of the universities which are increasingly keen to exploit academic research and innovation as an important revenue stream, but is it really fair that some students are being denied the right to exploit the fruits of their own creativity, especially when they are paying for their tuition?
This comes after the recent launch of the IPO's IPTutor online tutorial and the BBC's Copyright Aware project (about which see John Ensor's post here) which aim to address a lack of IP awareness amongst young people in general. Students in higher education were identified by a 2012 study (pdf) jointly sponsored by IPAN, the IPO and the National Union of Students, as being eager to receive more teaching on the subject of IP. That study found that 84% of students they contacted thought that having a broad knowledge of IP was important to them in their studies and for their future careers, although only 40% of students considered their current awareness of IP to be enough to support them in their future career. The study also concluded that more should be done to introduce students to IP while they were in secondary education. Teaching on IP in schools was very patchy, and in large part just consisted of making pupils aware of avoiding plagiarism, rather than acting as a foundation for IP in general.
The THE article quoted Charles Oppenheim, a visiting professor at the University of Nottingham, as saying these IP-grabbing policies in universities are a result of "ignorance rather than anything else", and he pointed to the JISC Legal report from 2007 which had warned that such contracts could well be found to be unfair if they were ever challenged in court. Mandy Haberman, a director of the IP Awareness Network, felt there was a huge amount of confusion about IP within the higher education community.
Some of the reasons quoted by the universities do tend to support this suggestion that ignorance and confusion lie behind these policies. The Royal College of Art claimed that it held the IP rights until graduation in order to protect students' work from infringement. On the other hand, the London Metropolitan University wanted to have the rights so that it would not be liable for infringing the students' work if copies had to be made available to second markers.
If students are led to believe that this sort of rights grabbing is the norm, many of them who go on to be entrepreneurs or creators could well be at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding the value of their IP rights, and it is claimed, this will damage Britain's entrepreneurship.
Thanks to Chris Torrero for making us aware of the THE article.