Reworked patent policy to ensure student researchers get credit for inventions

Media Credit: Kiana Robertson | Hatchet Photographer
The LAESI is one of chemistry professor Akos Vertes’ patented inventions at GW. University leaders hope an update to its patent policy will encourage more professors to take out patents for their inventions and make it easier for students to recieve credit for their work.

Updated: Oct. 31, 2014 at 5:24 p.m.

Student inventors could receive more recognition for their help in faculty research projects after GW finishes reworking its patent and copyright policies this year.

Updating the policy for the first time in almost a decade will ensure GW stays competitive as a research institution, said Charles Garris, the chair of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee. He said it will also encourage more students to gain experience from working on complex projects.

The policy change will likely catch the eye of professors who otherwise may not write patents or involve their students in the process, Garris said.

“If a student invents, then who has the ownership rights?” he said. “Generally we believe the students do, but there are exceptions. It should be clear for the benefit of the students.”

He said the process to file a patent can be time consuming, and that professors typically prioritize other projects instead. The policy may try to motivate professors to patent their work and generate revenue for their departments.

“There’s a feeling there should be an incentive,” chemistry professor Akos Vertes said. “In promotion and tenure now, patents and inventions are not given much credit. So the issue is how can you make it more attractive to faculty to get involved.”

Faculty can earn half the revenue from an invention if it makes less than $100,000, according to GW’s current policy, which was last updated in 1996. Inventors that bring in between $100,000 and $2 million can keep 40 percent of that money. The remaining funds are divided among the researchers’ department, his or her school and the University’s research office.

Officials have yet to decide whether or how the financial incentives for securing a patent would change.

Because applying for patents can take up a significant portion of a professor’s time and resources, the Office of Technology Transfer rolled out tougher standards for inventions, in an effort to preempt submitting projects that did not have the potential to bring in significant revenue.

Since that move, the number of patent applications submitted in 2014 dropped to 17 from 28 in 2011.

Vertes, who has shared 12 patents with students, said it was important to formally include student researchers in the policy. He has only had one patent in which he is the sole inventor since he came to GW.

Vertes said the experience from working on new inventions and the process of taking out patents makes them more attractive to future employers.

“The students are the ones who are in the lab and carrying out the projects that originate from my ideas most of the time, but they are the people actually carrying it out,” Vertes said. “I feel it’s natural to include them in the patent as co-inventors.”

Colleen Murphy contributed reporting.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Steven Kubisen, the head of the Office of Technology Transfer, was scheduled to present an update on the patent policy to the Faculty Senate in December. Kubisen will actually speak about his office and tech transfer at the meeting. We regret this error.

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