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October 13, 2016

Academic visitor pacts on hold

Updated academic visitor agreements are being put on hold until a new intellectual property (IP) policy is in place.

“There were quite a lot of fairly negative comments from the faculty,” University Senate research committee co-chair Penelope Morel said at the research committee’s Oct. 7 meeting. Faculty had been asked to review a draft website ( and visitor agreements. (See Sept. 15 University Times.) IP assignment provisions were a main concern, Morel said.

“We got word from Jennifer Woodward (associate vice provost for research operations) this week that the policy had been put on hold and that it would be subsumed as part of the new IP policy,” which will address visitors, Morel said.


The University’s policies on intellectual property are moving in the right direction, law faculty member Michael Madison, an invited guest, told the Senate research committee.

“Building flexibility into Pitt’s research practice and into Pitt’s interaction with the investor community, the technology community, is part of where the IP policy is going,” said Madison, who chaired a University policy review committee subcommittee on copyright policy.

The committee (, headed by Vice Provost for Research Mark Redfern, has been working for more than a year to revise University copyright, patent and conflict of interest (COI) policies (see March 3 University Times) to help faculty work with outside partners and translate their research more effectively.

Draft COI policy and updates to the research integrity policy are scheduled for review at the Senate research committee’s Nov. 4 meeting.

The revised COI policy is under development by a separate subcommittee, but “the sense is to eventually have a formal policy that is less presumptively inhibitory of faculty engagement with corporate partners in areas related to their research,” Madison said.

“Pitt has a reputation and a public presence that is more formalistic and more rigid in the technology commercialization space than most of its peer group universities do,” Madison said.

“We are designing policies that create opportunities and flexibilities in a forward-moving direction, in the right direction for individual researchers as well as for the University.”

Said Madison: “There’s always a transition period, so not everything will be perfectly smooth. But I think that what we’re setting in motion is a process of creating opportunity and flexibility that people want, that people have been looking for as researchers, but still protecting the University and maintaining its compliance with relevant federal law, international law; protecting patients and people who are research subjects as required; protecting the core mission of the University as a knowledge-generating institution.

“You all know it’s a big, complicated institution. Policy development is an awkward and complicated thing and compromises are inevitable,” Madison said. “…But are we going to end up with a policy on paper that is significantly more flexible and forward-looking than what we have today in all the right senses? Yes we will.”

Madison added that it would be up to leaders in the Office of General Counsel, the Innovation Institute and the Office of Research to ensure their teams align practices with the policies as they are implemented.

“I’m optimistic that the right people are in the right place,” he said. “We’re not going to be dumping a document on a couple of organizations that will be blindsided by what they might hypothetically perceive as a radical change in direction. In fact, quite the opposite,” Madison said, adding that some aspects of the formal policy to come already are being interpreted in practice.

—Kimberly K. Barlow 

Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 4

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