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Academia "Invention" contract negotiable?

   May 27, 2015
 
Question:

Hi Jennifer, 

I just finished residency and I am now headed to specialty training at a University that is requiring that I sign an "invention agreement" form, giving them majority ownership on anything I develop while an employee/trainee. If this were specific to the field in which I'm training at the university, I may not be as disturbed. But this agreement looks like a carte blanche to me. What options do I have?  Do you think I should sign this?

Thanks, 
Dr. L

Answer:

First, congratulations on finishing residency!  Second, yes certain programs do try and cram down certain draconian concepts and intellectual property rights related to "works for hire", with inventions at the top of that list. I agree asking you to sign away such a broad right is overreaching. If you create a new type of microwave not on your employer's time or dime, no reason they should have claim to it.  Your options are to ask nicely whether the document is negotiable or take the more passive agressively route and not return that document and see if the institution follows up.  If the document is not negotiable and the institution requires it returned, if you want the spot you may have to sign.  Contract negotiation is all a matter of leverage, and here, unfortunately, you may not have much....

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