Universities as Guardians of Their Inventions

Liza Vertinsky

Emory University School of Law


Utah Law Review, Vol. 4, p. 1949, 2012
Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-249

There is a growing belief both within and outside of Congress that the system of university technology transfer upon which U.S. innovation relies is broken. Too many good ideas, ranging from promising drug candidates to revolutionary clean energy technologies, either fail to reach the public or remain significantly underutilized. Yet, in the search for new ways to expedite the movement of science into the marketplace, a critical avenue continues to be overlooked. Universities, the traditional “engines” of innovation, seem to be trapped in an institutional framework that limits both their interest and their involvement in post-discovery innovation. This impedes solutions to innovation barriers.

Growing failures to put inventions to effective public use can be largely attributed to changes in the ways that science is produced, financed, patented, and consumed. Trying to fit these shifting innovation processes into an unchanged legal system contributes to technology transfer failures. This Article suggests that if universities obtained more discretion, responsibility, and accountability over the post-discovery development paths for their inventions, they might be able to improve the trajectory for many promising scientific discoveries. Why? Because universities have unique organizational characteristics that give them a comparative advantage over firms and government agencies in navigating the mixed processes of knowledge creation and application that characterize modern day innovation processes. This advantage is particularly strong where private and social benefits from university discoveries diverge.

Universities should thus be viewed not simply as “engines,” but rather as guardians of their inventions, and the law should be designed to encourage their responsible involvement in shaping the post-discovery future of their wards.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 74

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Date posted: May 29, 2013 ; Last revised: July 3, 2013

Suggested Citation

Vertinsky, Liza, Universities as Guardians of Their Inventions (2012). Utah Law Review, Vol. 4, p. 1949, 2012; Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-249. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2265416

Contact Information

Liza Vertinsky (Contact Author)
Emory University School of Law ( email )
1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
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