IP policy issues continue to stir debate at Faculty Assembly


Some of the people at the Oct. 2 Faculty Assembly said they still have gripes with Pitt’s intellectual property forms, and broader IP policy, as the University plans to release a newly revised IP assignment form this week.

The Senate Research Committee, working with Senior Vice Chancellor Rob Rutenbar and his team, are finalizing an update to option 3 of Pitt’s IP assignment form. After the federal government abruptly altered regulations over the summer, Pitt was spurred to alter the language on the old option 3 form to become compliant.

The new version of the form will not require signatures from graduate students and post-doctoral scholars and will only require signatures at the time a grant is activated.

Rutenbar is also in the process of putting a committee together that will tackle the University’s overall IP policy, University Senate President Chris Bonneau said.

Frank Karioris, a visiting lecturer with the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program, told the Assembly that there is still a serious gray area with the University’s IP forms that needs to be addressed.

“What I mean is that a lot of people have signed this who ought not to have been forced to sign this,” Karioris said of the previous “vague” version of the IP assignment forms. “Is the University going to retract its right under those prior to a secondary IP policy being signed by that individual faculty member?”

Bonneau and Penny Morel, co-chair of the Research Committee, explained that there’s a statement in the revised option three that says signing the revised form will supersede previous agreements.

However, following an exchange between other Assembly members, it was unclear whether or not people who signed previous versions of the assignment forms, for whatever reason, will still be beholden to those agreements if they do not sign the revised IP assignment form.

Cindy Tananis, Senate Council secretary, said that it’s important to also consider graduate students who may still be beholden to previously signed IP assignment forms.

“There were graduate students who also were required to sign that agreement because they were working on projects, so realistically, you'd have graduate students who, as far as I understand it, will not have to sign,” Tananis said. “But there is a signed agreement out there that, until the University says ‘we retract all of those,’ that agreement stands legally, and influences that student.”

Morel said she agreed with Tananis and reiterated that graduate students and post-doctoral scholars will not be required to sign the new assignment form.

Tananis said that some graduate students may still be at risk.

“As I understand the situation right now, whatever the agreement is stands until you sign the new agreement that supersedes,” Tananis said. “If you are not in a position, as many graduate students may not be, to now sign a new agreement, and of course we're saying they probably wouldn’t because they’re no longer required, then they still have an outstanding agreement that the University could enforce.”

Morel then said she would follow up with Rutenbar for clarity on the situation, and Bonneau suggested that the Research Committee report its findings to the Assembly at its next meeting on Oct. 30.

“Now this is a temporary fix, which is what we're looking for because this leaves us no worse off than we were prior to what happened in August,” Bonneau said of the revised assignment form. “Now there are still ways for us to be better off, right, and that involves the rethinking of Pitt's intellectual property policy and some of the questions raised and how that happens moving forward.

“And I’m sure in the spring semester when the new IP policy comes before this body, we'll have much to say.”

Other topics discussed at the meeting:

  • Title IX coordinator Katie Pope explained the roles of the office, how it operates and how changes at the federal level may affect the office’s functions in the future.
  • Former University Senate President Frank Wilson told the Assembly that various changes made in the Pitt Office of University Communications were satisfactory, including new hires and a new direction for the University Times.
  • The Tenure and Academic Freedom Committee is working on developing an academic attendance policy that would address situations where potential donations would be subject to the donor having a say in academic issues.
  • The Educational Policies Committee will tackle the issue of bias in student evaluations of professors.
  • There’s a push to make Pitt a tobacco-free campus. Bonneau has been in talks with Staff Council, Pitt administrators, the student government board and others about pushing a resolution out sometime this semester.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905.