Private Companies and University Patents

Attending a premier university and having the opportunity to do some cutting-edge research and innovation is the dream of many of us. College, especially at a top-tier or well-funded school, opens so many doors for us to pursue fields we are passionate about. We are able to get our hands our resources we would not otherwise have access to, and that is incredible.

The problem lies in a relatively new trend of universities taking the outstanding research done by their students and patenting it themselves. It makes sense – research done with university resources should be university property. Most people don’t have a problem with that concept. At the same time, when said universities then go and sell these patents to unscrupulous companies, problems emerge. Do the original researchers and innovators get credit for their work? Do they get any say in what happens to the research they’ve done? Generally, no.

For example, universities in the past have sold groundbreaking medical patents to pharmaceutical companies. The companies have then gone on to charge exorbitant prices for their products and have taken all the profits for themselves. The original students who discovered and developed the procedures have gone uncredited and uncompensated. It’s frustrating to think about, but it happens.

It’s a tough position to be in – as a student at a university, you are essentially giving up all the rights to your work, because it technically belongs to the institution. They are technically free to do as they please with it. It’s just important to know this ahead of time so that you can make informed decisions about how you go about your research. Knowing the pitfalls of having a university own the patent to your work is crucial. 

For those of you who may already be at the university level, talk to your research assistants and professors. Ask some questions so that you can have some control over the process. If you haven’t gone off to college yet, just go into it with your eyes open. Do not be discouraged from doing research – that’s a huge part of what you’re there to do – but again, ask questions. Learn what happens to students’ work. Find out everything you can. It will be an immense learning experience so you can hopefully go on to apply for your own patents down the road.



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