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Updated 10:00 AM June 22, 2009

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Tech Transfer clarifies policy to encourage student entrepreneurs

The Office of Technology Transfer wants to make it clear that student entrepreneurs can pursue their inventions on campus without concern that the university will later try to claim ownership.

That's why the office is making several changes to its Technology Transfer Policy.

The most significant change clarifies the ownership provisions for intellectual property created by students. University policy is now unambiguous: Student entrepreneurs are the sole owners of their inventions, even if they work on a project in a U-M design course, receive guidance from a faculty member, or use specialized university equipment.

However, inventions made on the job by U-M student employees will be treated as employee inventions. In those cases, the university would claim ownership.

"We want to do whatever we can to encourage student entrepreneurship, and this change clears the way for students to openly bring their ideas to campus," says Kenneth Nisbet, Tech Transfer executive director.

The proposed Technology Transfer Policy revisions were presented to the Board of Regents Thursday.

Student entrepreneurism is a growing interest at U-M. Tech Transfer officials work regularly with students at the Zell-Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, the College of Engineering Center for Entrepreneurship, and MPowered Entrepreneurship, a student organization.

In recent years, there's been some confusion about the tech transfer policy dealing with ownership of intellectual property. Tech transfer officials received inquiries about a clause stating the university could claim ownership of intellectual property developed by student inventors who relied on "direct or indirect support of funds administered by the University."

Let's say a student devised a new Web tool and wanted to tinker with it using equipment at the Duderstadt Center on North Campus. Would the student's use of that equipment constitute indirect support that could later lead to a U-M ownership claim?

That was never the intent, Nisbet says. To make the policy crystal clear, the newly revised version simply eliminates the clause about direct or indirect support.

"This change both clarifies our intent and sends a strong message," Nisbet says. "The message is that students are encouraged to bring their ideas to campus and that we're eager to help them pursue those ideas."

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