I’m hoping to generate some good conversation on this–whether in comments, on social media, etc…because intellectual property (IP) is something that has become very elusive and tricky over the past decade, particularly in academia, but also in industry. Here we go!
I got burned once. Maybe twice if you count grad school. I learned my lesson. Much like the old “hot stove” mantra, I shared an idea, only to find it be commandeered by a superior as “their own” shortly thereafter. It happened in grad school but I was much too naive to think about it. Or even notice it. But I wised up real quick on faculty. It also took me some time to react, process, and reflect on the fact that someone had poached me like an egg. That’s for another post since I feel like grad school was a scary blur still. One of my colleagues did it to me once after we’d met one-on-one and were discussing research. I had some hair brained, left field idea about “next steps” and the next thing I know, I’m hearing the boss say it to a group of PI’s on a conference call with NO mention of the fact it was my idea. Good grief. Lesson learned. I spoke up on the call, adding something like, “i’m glad we discussed that and it will work” and only then did the colleague give in and give me an ounce of credit. While I’m certainly not crying “big baby” here since we’re all adults, the point is that IP has become really fickle in our sue happy culture.
What do I do now? I wait. I keep the juicy or novel ideas that I have to myself when we’re one-on-one and wait to share them with at least one or two other people. Why? So I at least get credit. I haven’t cured cancer, but I deserve some credit, even if just another human saying, “that’s a good idea, let’s talk about how we would map that out for the next iteration” instead of swallowing my pride and remaining mute.
Intellectual property is so fickle. I can understand why people go to court, get IP patents, sue each other, and other measures to protect their ideas. I can also see why people are nuts! I had patent protection through my university for a year while we evaluated if the idea was patent worthy. The university dropped it so we didn’t pursue it due to financial constraints (AKA: we didn’t have the money to front) but it was sort of nice to know that Texas Instruments was all over our talks at a conference….until they came out w/ a similar product. Their R&D has a lot more steam behind it than I did as a grad student.
The big question is: what do you do? How much do you share? What if it’s your best idea and you lay it all on the table for an interview but don’t land the job knowing that another faculty can just pick up with your idea and run? It’s tough to watch your best ideas or work go abandoned or worse yet: totally butchered.
Intellectual property has heated up over the past decade and so has the boom of patents and other protective services offered by the government and private agencies. Apple and some of the big players register dozens to hundreds of patents each week and are a well oiled machine with bottomless pockets to pay the fees, R&D that can bust a move, and all of their ducks are in a row in this case. How can someone like you (or me) make sure their voice is heard, their idea can grow, and if we’re using agriculture terms here: get fertilized, nurtured, and fed what it needs to go from an idea to a fully bloomed flower? (or tomato, or ear of corn….).
As a new faculty and grad student, it can be really intimidating to share and get burned. Learn from my mistakes readers: protect yourself. You don’t need thousands of dollars or the late Steve Jobs on your team, but sometimes, getting credit and giving credit where it’s due can often make someone feel empowered enough to keep going. Give credit to yourself, get a little pat on the back from people who are on “team _____” and if you need, go big, be bold with those ideas. Rarely has anyone ever spit something out of their mouth or thought from their brain that didn’t get at least another thought or a few minutes from colleagues.