Preserving the Fruits of Labor: Impediments to University Inventor Mobility
Tennessee Law Review, Forthcoming
76 Pages Posted: 18 May 2021 Last revised: 20 May 2022
Date Written: May 17, 2021
Academic inventors must overcome numerous obstacles when they seek to leave their parent universities. The results of their work are often intertwined in what I call “innovation-essential components,” which are important aspects of the innovative process that create strong ties to the parent university, such as data, patents, trade secrets, grants, contracts, materials, and other agreements and restrictions. Innovation-essential components effectively bind university inventors to their parent institutions, making departure unworkable without the university’s blessing. Universities sometimes further complicate inventor mobility, entering into unlawful agreements with other academic institutions in their efforts to prevent inventor movement or engaging in questionable practices in the process of “poaching” an inventor.
Impediments to mobility for academic inventors raise several concerns. The unique knowledge university inventors gain about their nascent inventions is often essential to bring their ideas to market. Unduly burdening inventor use of their inventions may inhibit the full realization of their unique and valuable knowledge. Further, community norms and philosophical principles about inventors’ ability to use their inventions may conflict with legal doctrine, creating tensions when limitations prevent inventors from using the technology they created. Inhibitions on inventor mobility may also contradict the foundational objectives of educational institutions. This Article discusses issues that may arise when academic inventors seek to leave their parent universities, providing a case study from the largely-overlooked strawberry industry. It concludes by evaluating mechanisms to mitigate potential harms caused by such conflicts.
Keywords: innovation, secrecy, patents, trade secet, tacit knowledge, technology transfer, university inventors, licensing, universities, intellectual property, data, antitrust
JEL Classification: I23, K39,J62
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation