Cambridge IP - Rebuttal and Frequently Asked Questions
IP Ballot - Vote for the Amendments!
See www.freecambridge.org - website of the Campaign for Cambridge Freedoms.
Yesterday the University circulated ballot papers for the policy on
Intellectual property, together with a booklet of flysheets some of which
argue for the Council's proposal while others argue for the amended proposal.
Most of the flysheets supporting the Council proposal reiterate two
- It's claimed that "the amendments will undermine the new technology
appeal tribunal". This is simply not the case: the amendments in fact
extend the tribunal's remit from future disputes to existing ones too.
Whichever version prevails in the vote, university staff and students will have
a neutral and non-departmental arbitration and appeal process for disputes
about whose names should go on a paper or a patent. It is ludicrous to claim,
as many of the pro-Council flysheets do, that the tribunal cannot enforce
decisions on patents unless the university owns all patents. First, a tribunal
finding that a patent filed in the names of Able and Baker should have had
Cousins' name on too would invalidate the patent in many jurisdictions; and
second, the tribunal has to arbitrate matters such as copyright where the
rights in dispute are owned by academics directly.
- Many of the pro-Council flysheets argue that the Council version alone
will narrow the gap between the rights enjoyed by tenured staff and those
enjoyed by contract staff. Again, this is simply not true. Under the Council
proposals, contract staff will in general move from owning only the copyright
in "normal academic forms of publication" to owning nothing; they will need to
get permission even to publish a paper. The Council was asked (p 22) to
clarify who would give this permission, but declined to answer (p 24). The
amendments, on the other hand, will ensure that copyrights claimed from
contract staff by the University as a result of carelessly-drafted funding
conditions are automatically assigned back to their creators (regulation
There are a number of other misconceptions in the pro-Council flysheets, some
of which illuminate the thinking behind the proposals.
- The arts & humanities flysheet (p 13) notes that academic ownership of
copyright is essential for freedom and then claims that the Council proposal
guarantees academic freedom by providing the right to publish. However, the
Council response (p 24) admits that in their regulations the right to publish
(Reg 4) is overridden by Reg 2. Many contract staff end up worse off then
before and their freedom is undermined. The amendments on the otherhand make
contract staff better off, and tenured staff no worse off.
- The Council flysheet argues that Regents act as charity trustees and must
therefore vote in the interests of the University rather than selfishly. This
is illuminating: the mindset it reveals is that the beneficiary of the
charity is the institution itself as a corporate entity. I would have thought
that the beneficiary of the charity is the human race, whom we benefit by the
manufacture and distribution of knowledge.
- The Council flysheet also argues that the University must not give away
its property unless for good and sufficient reason. The proposal drawn from
this argument is that it should give away to their creators the intellectual
property rights in history books, popular science books and economics
textbooks (for example) but not patents. The link between the two propositions
is not explained and there is no defence offered for the resulting inequity
between technology and the humanities.
- The Board of Graduate Studies argues for the Council proposal on the
grounds that without it a student might secretly patent work done in
collaboration with a supervisor, or vice versa. This shows deep ignorance of
law and practice. Such an act would be a crime, and a smart perpetrator would
file under a false name. If he filed under his own name, then he would be
liable for arrest and imprisonment once the patent was published and the
crime came to light. Neither the Council proposal nor the amendment can do
anything for law enforcement - but under the amended version, the victim of
such a crime would have a stronger incentive to detect it and complain.
- The flysheet from the Professors of Law claims that the Council policy "is
overall more favourable to individual inventors and creators than in
comparable British Universities". It is certainly the case that under the
proposals, legal scholars and other humanities dons would get to keep all
the royalties from their textbooks and private practice while the
University would be operating, in essence, a different policy with regard
to technologists who are in a position to benefit from patenting their IP.
The question of the 'equity' of the IP proposals needs to be seen in this
light. The Council's proposed policy on patents, the flysheet suggests,
"forms a platform for a raft of advantages to the inventor secured by other
provisions of the grace"; it goes on to talk about the possibility of one
inventor committing fraud by filing himself for work done jointly. There is
an answer to this point which is referred to in the discussion of the Board
of Graduate Studies' flysheet (see above).
- The Law Professors' flysheet does however usefully pick up on what's become
the central issue in the debate - the power of the University to bind staff
to IP agreements without our consent. The lawyers ask (p 21) what has to
happen in order for an external funding agreement to affect a staff member
if the amendments pass. The answer is simple: the staff member has to sign
something, and must therefore be a party to the agreement. Under the
Council proposal supported by the lawyers, it is by no means clear the
consent of the member of academic staff concerned is needed in order for
their IP to be the subject of an agreement between the University and a
third party. Conceivably then the University can sign away rights. This is
not a hypothetical threat - see the Mike Clark
- The biological and clinical sciences flysheet claims that the amendments
would lead to exclusion of self-funded research students from working
informally with teams. However, if you have a group that generates IP that you
seek to protect, you cannot work informally with people with whom you have no
agreement. You must get visitors to your lab to sign a suitable agreement. The
argument here appears to be that clause 14 allows staff to claim the IP of
self-funded students if it interacts with their own. There hasn't been a
problem up till now with informally-generated IP: there has been a problem,
however, with disputes between senior and junior members of staff. We believe
that students and staff should have equality of arms in such disputes. In a
complex and imperfect world, signed agreements backed up by a University
arbitration service give the least bad of the possible alternatives.
- Many of the flysheets seek to imply that we are simply being selfish by
trying to avoid sharing side-income with the University. Of the four Council
members backing the amendments, three of us have no patent royalty income and
thus nothing at stake financially while the fourth (Mike Clark) could gain from
the increase in patent royalties paid to inventors proposed by the Council (and
not amended by us). Regents might care to think about Mike's generosity in
giving the University the Campath patent, which fell outside even the old
policy and which generates over a million a year for the University.
- One of the things we sought to do with the amendments was to free up the IP
wrongly claimed by the 2001 policy from contract staff. The Council's response
by Professor Badger (p 24) does this, although weakly, by saying that the
Council proposals will be applied to IP going back to 2001. On whose authority?
According to policy, a grace takes effect on the date the grace is approved. Is
Council asking the Regent House to pass Ordnance X on a promise that they will
then pursue a policy of Y?
- Professor Badger also accuses us of a "misconception that the University can introduce a
policy that unilaterally overrides contracts". This is rather strong as the
issue was discussed in Council in October, at which meeting the PVC Research
admitted that we had taken care in our drafting to avoid placing the
University in breach of contract. We challenge Professor Badger to explain how
any amendment incites breach of contract. Our amendments will, of course,
affect the kind of contracts into which the University can enter in the future:
we will only be able to be bound with our consent.
Here now are answers to some of the questions that have been most
frquently asked during earlier campaigning. We'll be adding to these
over the next few days.
1. What is the IP dispute really about?
It's about whether Cambridge University should continue to be a
self-governing community of scholars that grows organically - as it
has been with such success for 800 years - or whether it should become
a more corporate entity, run by professional managers who try to
pursue strategic goals. Even more bluntly: should the central
administration be our servants or our masters?
2. That sounds all very well - but I'm a humanities lecturer, so all I
care about is my copyright. That's safe, isn't it, so why should I support you?
Here's four good reasons. First, the reason your copyrights are safe
(for now) is that we stopped the University grabbing them with its 2002
policy; now it's payback time and we're asking for your solidarity
and support. Second, your students and postdocs will suffer, as the
University will claim their IP if they're externally funded. Third,
the two schools that will be most damaged - technology and medicine -
are the profitable schools; and a poorer Cambridge will be less able
to subsidise humanities departments. Finally, once the administration
gets used to milking its more successful academics, then sooner or
later everyone's in the frame. What's the justice in the University
taking a share of engineers' patents but not of historians' TV series?
Why should medics have to share their private-practice fees with the
department - but not lawyers?
3. That's certainly food for thought. But the University says its
proposals will stop staff and students having to sue each other in the
courts. Surely that's a good thing?
We agree entirely. The arbitration system will not only help people
resolve disputes over whose name should go on a patent, but the much
more frequent disputes about whose name should go on a paper. It's
overdue. The only change we propose is to extend it - so that people can
use the system for existing disputes, not just new disputes arising from
4. The University also says its proposals will make the treatment
of tenured and contract staff more consistent. It this true?
See above. This is indeed a problem, and the amendments cope with it better.
The Council proposal seeks to level tenured staff down to the low level of
rights enjoyed at present by contract staff, while the amendments seek to level
contract staff up.
5. I'm a member of academic-related staff - in fact a computer
officer. I don't file patents, I just write software. Why should I
bother about this?
We extend rights to material produced in the course of your work rather
than research. That means that you can put the software you write in the
public domain without having to ask permission first. None of the pro-council
flysheets have rebutted this, but Council didn't take it as a friendly
amendment. The only way that non-research staff, or research staff who
produce non-research output, can control your own work is by voting for
the amendment, and even the pro-council side don't dispute that.
6. Why do you use the University's crest on your web page and
Regulation 31 states that `The University is solely entitled to use
its name and arms'. The background is that our administration seems
to want to sharpen up our `brand'. Should it have the power, for
example, to stop a controversial student society using the Cambridge
name? This is a discussion we have to have, especially in view of the
possible tensions between academic freedom and the Home Office's
`radicalisation' agenda. However, a Grace on the commercial
exploitation of research should not be used to slip such a regulation
through. We're therefore proposing to amend Regulation 31 to `The
University is solely entitled to make commercial use of its name and
7. The university says it didn't mean to take the right to
make contracts without the consent of staff. What do you say to
Right at the beginning of this, when we pointed out the terrible
effects that the 2002 policy would have, the reply from the Council was "we
didn't mean it". After more than three years, one committee, three
Reports, four Discussions, one eminent QC and the support of 14 other law
professors, aren't we entitled to expect that the Old Schools will mean
what they say and say what they mean? This is legislation, after all: it
will take effect once the Grace is approved, whichever way the ballot
goes. If you don't mean the University to acquire the power to make
contracts on your behalf, you had better vote for the amendments.
8. What happens if you lose? Is that the end of the whole
That's unlikely, for several reasons. First, tenured staff will still
have much better terms than contract staff, and once the principle
of levelling down has been accepted (rather than levelling up) the
temptation will be for the University to ask for more. Second, the
injustice of treating technologists' patents more severely than
historians' books will rankle. Third, the Cambridge Enterprise
bureaucracy won't make its budget - facing a choice between paying
15% tax to exploit an idea yourself or 67% tax to have it exploited
by CE, you can be sure that the valuable ideas will be self-exploited
and CE will end up with the turkeys. So the current share of patent
income enjoyed by the centre will go down from about half to something
near 15%. All these factors will create strong incentives for the
centre to move against the next target - and Regulation 2 gives it the
power to do so.
The net effect is likely to be that IP will remain a running sore for
years. It will distract management time and attention, poison
relationships between academic and administrative staff, and undermine
the octocentenary fundraising campaign. We don't need any of that.
IP Ballot - Vote for the Amendments!