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Faculty committee to revise intellectual property policy

Who owns the work of a University professor? This is the question that the Faculty Committee on Intellectual Property and the rest of the University is facing.

The committee, chaired by politics professor Amy Gutmann, is working on revising the University's existing intellectual property policy. Online material is one of the major issues that the committee has addressed.


The University currently has "no policy at all on Internet material. It would be a good idea for the University community to agree on a policy for this area before less sympathetic forces impose a policy from the outside," physics professor Will Happer, a member of the committee, wrote in an email.

The recommendations that the committee presented at a recent faculty meeting, however, met with some controversy. One issue the committee addressed was online classes. The University does not want professors to create entire online classes and sell them to an outside agent who could then require students at the University to pay for them.

'Assert ownership'

As a result, the committee included the following text in the recommendation: "Electronic courses are considered to be computer software. The distribution of electronic courses over electronic networks will therefore be subsumed under the University's existing patent policy." According to Happer, "the University has the option to assert ownership to any patents that arise from the work of its faculty, students and staff."

Gutmann told the faculty at a meeting that the "electronic course" did not refer to anything "short of an entire, self-contained electronic course offered elsewhere for credit."

Members of the Computer Science Department faculty felt otherwise. The conflict over the interpretation of the wording of the recommendation. While members of the committee maintain that "electronic course" has a very specific, limited meaning, members of the Computer Science Department feel it can be interpreted more broadly. "These proposals assert University control and ownership over the publication of the results of scholarship, specifically in the form of materials used in, and prepared for, courses taught at Princeton," read an email signed by the Faculty of the Computer Science Department.

Computer science professor Bernard Chazelle suggested in an email that "the policy will simply discourage faculty to put their lecture notes on the Web, which is a shame."


Members of the committee responded strongly to these allegations. "This is a gross misinterpretation of our recommendations," wrote economics professor Harvey Rosen in an email. "Short of an entire course, materials that professors put on the Web (or on hard copy for that matter) belong entirely to that faculty member."

As a result of the dispute, the recommendation was referred back to the committee by the faculty meeting for further clarification. "I hope that the wording will be more clear on what is covered, what is not, and how the individual items should be dealt with," wrote Assistant Professor of Computer Science Perry Cook in an email.

"We are looking forward to using the input from our faculty colleagues to improve the recommendations," Rosen said.

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