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Strategic alliances and intellectual property

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When you form strategic alliances with other companies, especially if it’s for the purpose of research or creating a new product or process, you often end up creating intellectual property (IP): an innovation to which the owner has exclusive rights under the law. It may be covered by a copyright, trademark, patent, industrial design right or trade secret. It is imperative that you discuss beforehand—at the time the alliance is formed—who will own that hypothetical intellectual property.

One of the reasons Crosslink decided to move into Missouri State University’s Jordan Valley Innovation Center was the university’s unusually business-friendly IP policy. “They will assign any intellectual property that’s either developed jointly, or developed by them when you’re working with them, to the company,” says vice president of government relations and operations Don Landy. In forming a research alliance with The University of Southern Mississippi, in Hattiesburg, Miss., Landy suggested the institution adopt an IP policy like Missouri State’s in its relationship with Crosslink—and surprisingly, the school agreed. The lesson, Landy supposes, is that it never hurts to ask. But he says the days of unilaterally pro-business IP agreements may be gone.

“Universities are looking to eke out any form of revenue that they can in order to offset shortfalls in budgets that have resulted from economic cuts,” he explains. “Most universities [have a default policy that] whatever the university invents, the university owns; whatever the company invents, the company owns; and whatever they jointly invent, they own equally. If, as a result of the alliance, there’s some technology developed that the company wants, they’ll have to sit down and negotiate royalties and a licensing arrangement. But that’s almost a hostage situation, because the company needs that technology. That’s why we always try to negotiate up front if we can.”

Jamie Swedberg is an editor and freelancer writer based near Athens, Ga.

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