There’s a professor emeritus in the neurobio department who rides my bus every morning. Today he was conversing with another guy who works in the Cornell administration dealing with intellectual property and he (Professor Howard C. Howland if you’re familiar with the neurobio department), shared his own story about patents and intellectual property.
His brother used to be an inventor at MIT. Sometime in his career he designed this optical device (didn’t really explain it in any more detail than that), and got it patented through MIT. A couple years later, Polaroid came out with a new camera that used the technology he designed. Of course, the guy went and complained to MIT. The university told him that they had sold the patent to Polaroid for $20,000 because…. Polaroid was a major donor to MIT. *facepalm*
Apparently theft of intellectual property from universities isn’t entirely uncommon. The administrator guy said that Cornell recently ended a nearly 7-year, multi-million dollar lawsuit with Hewlett Packard. The university won the lawsuit, but not for nearly as much as it had hoped. If you’re curious, here’s a press release from 2002 (when the case started) that I found online: http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/Jan02/HP.lawsuit.patent.final.html