Posted in Collegiality, Recap

Recap: #ECRchat on Intellectual property in research teams, 29 Aug 2013

The chat on August 29th was hosted by Dr Siobhan O’Dwyer (@Siobhan_ODwyer), who is nearing the end of a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Griffith University.

The chat was about negotiating intellectual property (IP) in research teams. There was an interesting mix of participants who engaged in a fast and furious discussion about all things IP.

To begin the chat I proposed this definition of IP:  “the right to be acknowledged as the owner or creator of ideas, methods, data, creative works, designs and products”. I suggested that for most of us IP is primarily about names on journals and grants, but encouraged participating ECRs to identify other areas of IP that arise from their work. Some of the additional suggestions included software ownership, spin-off companies, spatial data, commissioned work, and teaching materials.

The following questions then guided the chat:

(1)    What factors (do or should) determine the order of investigators on a grant application?

(2)    What factors (do or should) determine the order of authors on a journal article?

(3)    For authorship and investigator roles, is it better to agree on these up front or negotiate along the way?

(4)    How do you decide who represents the research in any media coverage?

(5)    What factors determine ownership when the research has commercialisation potential or has been conducted with industry partners?

(6)    What strategies can ECRs use to negotiate and protect their intellectual property rights when working in teams?

Below is a summary of the main ideas, issues and experiences that emerged in response to each question, along with some handy tips for young players. The tweets are also available on Storify (with sincere apologies if I have missed any; I am a Storify virgin!). My overall impression was that despite the existence of guidelines and policies on IP, for many of us negotiating IP is still a process of ‘trial and error’. Hopefully this chat provided an opportunity to learn from the experience of others and will encourage more conversations in the future. If you are just embarking on an academic career, it’s important to arm yourself with as much information as possible and be aware of the implications for your career of not protecting your IP.

Q1: What factors (do or should) determine the order of investigators on a grant application?

There was a general consensus that grants are less about who owns the idea and more about who has the best track record. There was also an acknowledgement that the order of investigators is often determined by the funding guidelines – some expressly require ECRs to be the primary investigator, while others exclude ECRs.

Q2: What factors (do or should) determine the order of authors on a journal article?

This was the question that really got folks fired up and there were several parallel conversations running on important sub-topics (see the Storify for more). What emerged most clearly from the responses to this discussion were the varied practices and expectations in different disciplines. While those working in the sciences were more likely to include PhD Supervisors and other senior staff on all papers – regardless of intellectual or actual contribution – those in the humanities tended to have more single-authored papers (even when others had been involved). There was also an interesting discussion on ‘guest authorship’ – i.e. including people as authors for political reasons or to boost the prestige of a paper – though some who had experience of this were frustrated at having to list authors who had done no work and/or having been ‘gifted’ authorship on a paper with which they would rather not be associated.

Tip for Young Players: Many journals now have minimum requirements for authorship. The International  Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ requirements can be found here.

Q3: For authorship and investigator roles, is it better to agree on these up front or negotiate along the way?

While most ECRs agreed that it was important to negotiate these roles ‘up front’, there was a clear understanding that research was always evolving and it was important to remain flexible and renegotiate as needed. Several ECRs had worked in teams where authorship was rotated across multiple papers. A number of ECRs also noted the importance of negotiating roles when working in multidisciplinary teams where the expectations may differ according to the discipline (see Q2).

Q4: How do you decide who represents the research in any media coverage?

Very few of the participating ECRs had experience of engaging with the media. Of those who had, the experience was mixed. Some organisations wanted a senior researcher to be the ‘face’ of the research, while other teams divided up media work according to availability and location. Emerging media, such as The Conversation, were identified as a great way for ECRs to raise their profile (thanks @KiraVClarke)

Tip for Young Players: All Universities have media or public relations departments and most of them are more than happy to provide guidance and media training to researchers.

Q5: What factors determine ownership when the research has commercialisation potential or has been conducted with industry partners?

Only one ECR had any experience of this, but described a positive experience of engaging with his University to draw up IP agreements. In response to this question one ECR also highlighted the rights of participants who create knowledge.

Q6: What strategies can ECRs use to negotiate and protect their intellectual property rights when working in teams?

Most ECRs felt that the key to negotiating IP was choosing collaborators carefully – knowing their approach up front, building trust, working together on small projects before embarking on larger ones, and having multiple collaborations to avoid becoming isolated or vulnerable. There was a clear understanding that although it is important to document all correspondence about IP, things can still break down. The final word on this definitely has to go to @ad_mico “Don’t work with arseholes”.

Tip for Young Players: Most Universities have a written policy on Intellectual Property and dedicated staff to help you negotiate with industry partners or researchers at other Universities.

-Siobhan.

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Academic, political tragic. Northern Rivers, NSW, Australia.

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