Patents & Software

On April 25, 1989, the Council of the University Senate approved a University policy on patents and software. This policy, which appears below, originally made reference to Statute 20 (“Patents and Software”) of the University’s Statutes. On May 11, 1992, a new edition of the University Statutes appeared and Statute 20 was renumbered Statute 18. See also Inventions, Discovery and Software in the Personnel Policy Guidelines (Policy U1004).

Policy on Patents and Software

This policy refers to Statute 18. In keeping with its long-standing policies, the University does not pursue research in anticipation of profits. The principal goals of research remain the discovery of new knowledge and its dissemination. Since some of the by-products of research may be of commercial value if they are properly protected, developed and marketed, the University realizes that it needs an appropriate mechanism to recognize developments, protect them, and bring them to the marketplace.

In order to recognize changing circumstances, the scope of Statute 18 has been broadened to cover certain software in addition to patents. The policy follows the University’s traditional distinction in the treatment of inventions and publications. Under University policy inventions have been the property of the University with the inventor receiving a share of any proceeds from their commercialization. Traditionally, published works written by members of the faculty have been published under agreements made by the faculty members and without the participation of the University. There is no purpose to change the customary arrangements on published material.

One type of materials that is not normally patented but has become potentially valuable property is computer software. Such software often is protected by copyrights. In some cases it may be patented and in other cases it is either licensed under secrecy arrangements or made readily available to the public. After some study, it is being recommended that “device-like” software be treated as a by-product of research activities like inventions.

Software may conceptually be divided into two principal categories. “Textual” software is software which is primarily intended and likely to result in informing or educating the user or in improving his or her general capabilities. For instance, such software may be an interactive package intended to train the user in a skill as part of the user’s education, or may teach the user elements of software design or engineering. This type of software is akin to a textbook, and ordinarily will be treated as published materials rather than as an invention subject to Statute 18.

“Device-like” software is software which is primarily intended and likely to result in the accomplishment of a task or in allowing the user to produce, manage, analyze, or manipulate a product, such as data, text, a physical object, or more software. Such software acts as a tool or building block in the accomplishment of such a task or in the creation or management of such a product or result.

Since device-like software serves the same purposes as other inventions, the new statute identifies device-like software, like inventions, as a type of property that will be owned by the University. Protection in the form of copyright, patents and/or licensing will be utilized as appropriate. In no case will the policy be used to interfere with the free publication of research results. Income from patents and device-like software shall be distributed among the inventors, Division and research units involved, and the University.