MIT Invention and Proprietary Information Agreement

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I mentioned that MIT has grad students sign an IP agreement. Here is the actual agreement


-- Joshua Tauber, October 15, 1999


After class on Thursday, I was thinking about Josh's question and comment. I realize that I didn't explain MIT's policy carefully enough.

There's a concept called "significant use of MIT funds and facilities", which is noted in the agreement linked to in Josh's message. If you make "significant use" then MIT has a say in ownership of what students develop (ditto for faculty).

There's been some criticism of this policy on the grounds that it gives a bigger brerak to computer science than to, say, biology: normal use of deskptop-class computers, or Athena, or stuff like that, does not constitute significant use; while a biology lab, for example, would be considered significant use. When push comes to shove it is formally up to a department head or lab director to make the call on precisely what is significant use.

Partly because of this criticism, there have been suggestions to replace "significant use" by something stronger: "general area of work". The idea would be, for example, that a CS invention by a CS faculty member would be owned by MIT, even if there was no significant use of MIT facilities in creating the invention.

Making this change would be pretty controversial, and it is not at all clear how this kind of policy would relate to students.

-- Hal Abelson, October 15, 1999