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WHEN PROFESSORS CREATE SOFTWARE, DO THEY OWN IT, OR DO THEIR COLLEGES?

As professors in a wide range of fields increasingly write commercially viable software, the issue of whether the programs belong to professors or to their colleges is heating up. If software is viewed as traditional scholarly publishing, then professors own the work. However, the university has ownership claims if the program is seen as an invention, or a work for hire. Copyright laws hold that an employer owns a creative work that falls within the bounds of the worker's employment--for example, a program that helps a professor grade papers, legal experts say. In addition, universities could claim ownership if a professor creates the software as an assigned project or uses university resources, including grants awarded by the school. While colleges nearly always claim ownership over patented software, most software is not patented, because products have to be innovative and not obvious to receive patents, says patent and copyright attorney Ray K. Harris. However, software is protected by copyrights, and scholars have traditionally held copyrights to their academic works. Despite this precedent, universities are increasingly writing policies that give them ownership of professors' software, as the potential to capitalize on these programs grows, Harris says. (Chronicle of Higher Education, 21 July 2000)




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