PRISM Magazine Online - May-June 2000
Grappling with thorny issues   - 3 hypothetical cases Grappling with thorny issues   - 3 hypothetical cases
 

The case:

    A major media conglomerate decides to start a virtual university that will hire academic stars from the great research universities, and build and market new media courses based on the content provided by the stars. In one of its first efforts, the company approaches a leading historian at an Ivy League university with an offer of $250,000 plus royalties to create a course on the French Revolution derived from his best-selling book on the subject. The course will be produced by the media company using its own personnel and technology and will be distributed through its network.

    The professor will be identified using his university affiliation, but there will be no indication that his institution was involved in the production of the course. The professor will write the content and teach the course. He will use the university's libraries, offices, computer facilities, etc., to prepare the content--normal uses associated with his faculty status. Of course, he is also using the cumulative stock of knowledge that he has acquired since he began studying history decades before he came to his current institution. During the production time for the virtual course, he asks for an unpaid leave of absence to work on the project.

Issues:

    Does the professor's university have a claim to any part of the intellectual property that he creates for the project? If the university had been developing its own new media content for broad distribution, would it have the right of first refusal? Should any of the revenues received by the professor from this project go to the university? If so, on what basis?

The case:

    Duke University decides to offer an Internet-based course in electrical engineering. The school approaches a Stanford professor who is a world-renowned electrical engineer and an exceptional teacher and proposes that he create the course, using Duke personnel and facilities as well as its technology and other resources. Duke would note in advertising the course that the professor was on the Stanford faculty, but it does not offer to share the revenues generated by the course with Stanford. The professor says that if he were to take on the project he would not spend more than one day a week on it during the academic year and would do most of the work during the summer months that are not covered by his Stanford salary.

    Under its intellectual property policy, Duke has an option to pay the professor a fee for service or to offer him a royalty stake in the revenues generated from his new media course. The professor is tempted to forge ahead, but is concerned that he might be violating Stanford's policy on new media intellectual property.

Issues:

    If he were to work on the Duke project, would that constitute a conflict of commitment? Would Stanford be in a position to stop him from taking on the project? Stanford may want to take the position that a full-time faculty member at one university should not be able to create a course for another university. This goes to the core of a university's business and, therefore, may be viewed as a conflict of interest and commitment.

The case:

    A member of the political science department at a leading university produces a new media video course, "Machiavelli and Rational Choice Theories in the History of War and Conflict," that has been funded by a major publishing company. He has worked as a consultant to that company, receiving substantial personal compensation for his efforts. The publishing company has used its resources to develop the technical features of the new media course. The professor, who is charismatic and charming, has developed this course over 10 years of highly successful teaching experience at the university. He has used university facilities to develop the course and a half-generation of students to sharpen his wit. The publishing house has a contractual agreement with the individual faculty member that permits it to suggest that this course, which is being widely advertised by the publishing house, is "sponsored" by the university.

    Meanwhile, the university has no contractual agreement with the publishing house for the use of its name. The faculty member has not received permission from the university to attach its name to this product. And as charismatic as the professor is, it is fairly clear that the "value" of the product is derived to a substantial degree from the brand-name recognition associated with the university's reputation.

Issues:

    Has the faculty member violated the university's policy of full disclosure and the feature of the policy that proscribes the use of the university's name when attached to new media products that are not approved by the university?

    In this case, the faculty member is deriving substantial personal benefit from his association with the university's name, has failed to inform the university of his arrangement, and has not permitted the university to have any say in the quality control of the products being attached to its name. This would appear to be a violation of a policy under which the university has the right to protect its name against misuse. Moreover, by deriving benefits from use of the university name, the faculty member is really making significant use of university resources, and the university should have an ownership interest in the intellectual property created.

Source: Based on a report by The Intellectual Property Task Force
of the Association of American Universities

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