UMissouri Claims Rights to Student’s iPhone App – then Doesn’t

Here’s the interesting issue: Brown, now a graduate student at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, was not then and is not now an employee or contracted researcher tied to the University. He was not a grant-receiving researcher or graduate student, and he was not participating in a traditional science or other technology “lab” environment.

It’s not clear from the reports whether he was receiving student aid, although aid was not a part of the University’s argument for its rights. In any event, under the University’s “Collected Rules and Regulations” receipt of student aid does not by itself cause a recipient to be deemed an “employee” of the University for IP ownership purposes.

Rather, Missouri argued that as an enrolled student at the University, developing the technology in a University class and presumably using University resources to do so, the University had a valid ownership claim to the intellectual property.

The AP story notes that the class professor had no involvement in the development of the app. And there was sufficient ambiguity in the relationship between Brown and the classwork itself – as well as, evidently, ambiguity in the applicability of the school’s IP policy to student work – to throw doubt into the strength of Missouri’s position.

Not surprisingly, Missouri modified its IP policies. But perhaps surprisingly, the changes were somewhat liberalizing.

Two particular provisions clarify that the University will not claim rights to non-“employee” student work when …

The Invention … was developed by a student as part of a University class project using no greater University resources than those generally available to all other students within the class or than those available to the student as part of his/her enrollment with the University.


The Invention … was developed by a student on his/her own free time, outside of any University class or sponsored activity, and using no greater University resources than those generally available to all other students as part of their enrollment with the University.

The key does seem to be the “using no greater University resources than those generally available to all other students” etc. language.

AP went on to cite Yale and Carnegie Mellon as leaders in the trend to create clarity so as, presumably, to make themselves more inventor- and entrepreneur-friendly. “Missouri and some other universities are hoping that giving students more rights, along with other incentives to invent, will make the institution more attractive to young entrepreneurs.”

Interestingly, Missouri’s School of Journalism issued an online press release last April touting another successful app developed by Tony Brown, this time a news aggregator app for Apple’s iPad.

The implication from the release is that Brown’s news app was developed much more collaboratively with the School’s faculty and resources, as well as other student inventors. The further implication, then, is that the University claimed rights in the news app, which may be significant in that, according to the release, a previous Brown news app was “became the fifth highest-rated news application on the iTunes store in the week following its launch”.

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