[EAS] Fostering Stewardship and Building Value

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Tue Nov 14 18:33:56 EST 2006

Dear Colleagues -

>The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 permitted U.S. universities to patent 
>federally-funded research. Did this make universities overnight 
>"hotbeds of innovation," or has it, as some critics feared, 
>subverted research culture and inhibited vital information sharing?

Thus begins an excellent and highly recommended review at 
<http://www.researchoninnovation.org/WordPress/?p=68> of the only 
book-length study of the subject I know of, "Ivory Tower and 
Industrial Innovation: University-Industry Technology Transfer before 
and after the Bayh-Dole Act," by David C. Mowery, Richard R. Nelson, 
Bhaven N. Sampat, and Arvids A. Ziedonis (Stanford University Press, 

The subject of university intellectual property, and its uses, has 
occupied universities even before those 25 years since Bayh-Dole 
became effective in 1981. Some have learned case by case, probably 
the only way to do it, others have kept a doctrinaire distance until 
more recently, and are thus behind the curve. Both camps usually lean 
toward oversimplified views, the protectors of free scientific 
exchange understanding too little about the rationale of business, 
and the proponents of entrepreneurship paying too little attention to 
the effects of their enthusiasm on research climate and the fragile 
psychology of open intellectual exchange, so important to education 
and to research progress itself.

Innovative business has its own clearly understandable motivations 
and excitement, and it is more readily plausible to students these 
days. I learned a lot about that in all the years that I split my 
existence between consulting and teaching. There is also an 
intellectual excitement in research, but it needs more shelter from 
distractions and is ever more difficult to communicate to students. 
All too frequently, graduate students are just "put to work" without 
any attempt to communicate to them a sense of their role in research, 
of the concept of becoming a "steward of the discipline" 
<http://ctl.stanford.edu/Tomprof/postings/743.html>. Often their 
thesis advisors had themselves no such introduction to stewardship.

Personally speaking, I was shocked when I first had a senior EE major 
propose that I sign a confidentiality agreement regarding a possible 
topic for a senior project (I didn't - how could he conceivably think 
I would?), or heard of graduate students cautioned by their thesis 
advisors not to discuss their research too openly.

Yet this research secretiveness is also fuelled by the fierce 
competition for federal dollars 
<http://chronicle.com/jobs/2001/05/2001052502c.htm>. Further, there 
is the intrusion, under Bayh-Dole, of overly broad patents into 
further research by others. The so-called "research exemption" is 
supposed to prevent such conflict, but many, including the book's 
authors, feel it is drawn to restrictively.

There is a growing literature, often numbingly detailed, on how 
universities are being transformed in the "knowledge age" by these 
links to the outside world. "As the Walls of Academia Are Tumbling 
Down" by Werner Z. Hirsch and Luc E. Weber, eds. (Economica Press, 
2002), is a fairly accessible selection of essays by generally 
university-affiliated authors.

Please read the review mentioned at the start of this mailing. It is 
my hope that enthusiasm for progress, the lure of becoming something 
else, the desire to make universities more like business, doesn't 
meld universities and business so that the most valuable attributes 
of each are lost. The world is full of "bi-lobal" situations where 
averaging would lose most that is truly valuable.   --PJK

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