U returns rights to students

The University is now letting students keep the rights to products they make in class.
February 20, 2014

Before Friday, University of Minnesota students didn’t own the rights to the work they created in classes.

The University’s Board of Regents approved the policy change at its monthly meeting in response to faculty and student requests over the years. University officials say they hope the change will promote entrepreneurship in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and business programs.

“The students actually benefit because they sort of get the fruits of their labor,” said Brian Herman, University vice president for research.

The old policy required students to disclose their inventions to the Office for Technology Commercialization, and then the University would work with companies or investors interested in the product. Last year, students, faculty and staff reported more than 330 inventions to the OTC, according to the Office of the Vice President for Research website.

Now, students own the rights to their intellectual property and can market their own products or work with the University to sell them. The new process is more efficient and may empower students to create better products in their courses, OTC executive director Jay Schrankler said.

“It puts them in the driver’s seat,” he said.

With the updated policy, the University is mirroring how other Big Ten schools, including the University of Illinois, Penn State University and Purdue University, approach intellectual property.

Students and faculty across the University had pushed for updating the policy in recent years, Schrankler said. Now seemed like the perfect time, since the institution is offering more hands-on learning opportunities.

“We want to encourage our students to be entrepreneurial,” he said.

Encouraging entrepreneurial spirit

The institutional policy change coincides with the University’s recent addition of entrepreneurial-driven classes that focus on research, design and business programs.

This year, the Carlson School of Management, the College of Science and Engineering and the OTC partnered to create a new program, MIN-Corps, that aims to help CSE students and researchers learn how to market their ideas.

University students also promote their work in the Minnesota Cup, an annual business ideas competition launched in 2005.

Third-year MBA student Nathan Conner won the $10,000 student division in the statewide competition last year with his invention, “Shedbed,” a bed that collects shedding pet hair.

Conner, who took part in the MIN-Corps program last semester, said the new policy change will be great for students as they develop products at the University.

Herman said the University will continue investing in more entrepreneurial initiatives to attract students who want to learn in more interactive ways, and the policy change could be a high selling point.

“We see this as a way that we can track some really entrepreneurial students who like the idea of going to an innovative place that’s really forward-thinking,” Herman said.

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