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February 8, 2013

Purdue opens up intellectual property rules for students

Safe Pace team

Members of the Safe Pace team, from left are Jason Lee, Joseph Pellettiere, Elizabeth Mercer and Johnny Zhang. Their medical device helps heart surgeons correctly implant pacemakers. Lee and Pellettiere are mechanical engineering students who graduated in December, and Mercer and Zhang are seniors majoring in biomedical engineering. (Photo contributed)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University student inventors will own their innovations thanks to a new interpretation of the university's policy governing intellectual property.

"We're out to foster a culture of entrepreneurship that extends from the newest freshman on campus to the most senior faculty member," said Purdue President Mitch Daniels. "If you have a great idea, Purdue is the place to develop what's in your mind and take it to the market."

Interpreted strictly, the intellectual property policy states any invention created with the use of Purdue resources is subject to university ownership. The new interpretation offers students clear ownership rights as long as the resources used were part of a course and were available to all students in the course; that the student was not paid by the university or a third party; and the class or project was not supported by a corporation or government grant or contract.

"We have a large number of students who come here with great ideas or develop them with the friends they make in classrooms and laboratories," Daniels said.

Elizabeth Mercer, a senior in biomedical engineering, and three other students developed a medical device last semester as part of their senior design course. Their device allows heart surgeons to test the stability of pacemaker leads that are attached to the heart wall and can sometimes come loose during surgery. After the implantation of the pacemaker into the heart wall, the doctor can attach the two-component device that is held together by magnets and pull on the outer component. If the magnets separate, the doctor knows the pacemaker lead is secure.

Mercer said representatives from Purdue's Office of Technology Commercialization met with the class and told them their concepts and designs belonged to them.

"We were told that we had a choice, that the inventions were ours, but we could seek help from their office and partner with Purdue if we wanted to. We're looking into it," Mercer said.

Elizabeth Hart-Wells, director of the Office of Technology Commercialization, said her office can help students and others think through their rights and offer insight into patent filing and intellectual property protection.

"For those students who choose to leverage it, there is a strong network of expertise and assistance available through the university and Purdue Research Foundation," Hart-Wells said. "We can also answer questions to help students identify the boundaries to ensure their ideas remain their property."

Purdue has dozens of programs and competitions to help students develop designs and prototypes to bring their ideas to life, ranging from new uses for soybeans to robotic snow throwers, most of which recognize that the intellectual property belongs to the student. Programs that are funded by external entities or offer access to specialized equipment beyond the classroom may mean the intellectual property will be shared or claimed by others. Hart-Wells advises students to read class syllabi carefully and to start intellectual property discussions with faculty at the beginning of projects.

Writer: Chris Sigurdson, 765-496-2644, sig@purdue.edu

Sources: Mitch Daniels, president@purdue.edu

Elizabeth Mercer, 317-459-1601, mercere@purdue.edu

Elizabeth Hart-Wells, 765-588-3473, eahart-wells@prf.org

Related website:
5 Students Who Invent