The University Record, May 9, 1994

New law protects research information from premature release

By Rebecca A. Doyle

The Confidential Research Information Act, which adds specific exemptions from disclosing certain kinds of information requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), was signed into law in April by Gov. John Engler.

“The passage of this act is an important event for the University of Michigan,” says Homer A. Neal, vice president for research. “This law will allow the University to protect its valuable research information from premature release without in any way detracting from the principle of the state Freedom of Information Act.”

The law specifically exempts certain confidential research information that might previously have been subject to disclosure under FOIA, even though it might have been requested by a market competitor.

The bill was passed without opposition, notes Freedom of Information officer Lew Morrissey, primarily due to discussions that were held with the Michigan Press Association after the bill was introduced.

“They felt these were legitimate issues that could be resolved without compromising the intent of FOIA,” Morrissey says. “It had been a problem not only to protect the proprietary interests of the University, but for any company that entered into research agreements with the University. The Michigan Press Association recognized this, and after their questions were answered, they were in agreement.”

The Confidential Research Information Act, introduced as Senate Bill 857 by John Schwarz, R-Battle Creek, was welcomed by research universities across the state. Glenn Stevens, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said that public universities are “very pleased that the Legislature has given its full support to this act.

“This legislation will significantly strengthen the capacity of business and industry to work with our public universities on a variety of research fronts, thereby helping to improve the state’s economy,” he added.

The Confidential Research Information Act is outlined below by Michael A. Kope, an attorney with the University’s Technology Management Office.

Information that is provided by an outside source is given a new, more specific additional exemption from FOIA disclosure requirements.

The law will exempt trade secrets and commercial and financial information received from a private entity if:

  • The information is covered by an authorized confidentiality agreement entered into by the University.

  • The information is designated confidential when it is received.

  • The information is used “exclusively for research, testing, evaluation and related activities.”

  • Certain general descriptions of the information to be received, its source and intended use are maintained in a central place and made available on request.

    Information relating to intellectual property matters is given a new, more specific additional exemption from FOIA disclosure requirements.

    The act automatically exempts certain information possessed by the University and certain information in which the University holds an interest. The following specific exemptions apply:

  • All intellectual property that is created by staff or contractees of the Uni-versity is exempted for a reasonable period in order to allow publication in the proper academic forum.

  • Copyrightable matter created by staff or contractees of the University is exempted for up to 12 months while copyright registration is sought.

  • Records relating to patentable inventions are exempted for up to five years while the inventor seeks patent protection.

  • Trade secrets in which the Univer-sity holds an interest are exempted so