Why Universities Oppose Real Patent Reform: Money

Universities have been vocal opponents of real patent litigation reform measures. And other reform opponents have swung the squeaky-clean image of the ivory tower like a club.

The presidents of Clemson University and Boston University wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago, opposing the Innovation Act. This paragraph was the one that stood out to me:

Universities’ research and creation of intellectual property are not about making money. Their mission is to achieve breakthroughs that advance society. In fact, most university technology-transfer operations do not receive enough royalties to offset their total operating costs. And any net revenues they do generate go back into education and research, the fundamental missions of the university.

I did a quick check to find out how much these two university presidents make. James Clements, the president of Clemson, made $775,000 in 2013. Robert Brown, the president of Boston University, made $1.1 million for 2012.

In fact, I went through the list of 145 universities that signed a letter to Congress opposing patent litigation reform. Using the Chronicle of Higher Education’s salary data for 2012, I found the salaries of the presidents at 136 of those universities. The median salary was over $600,000. The average was over $750,000.

Tell me again how this isn’t about money?

And, just to make clear how hypocritical the universities are being, here’s a stunning fact for you. While universities don’t sell their patents that often, when they do, they sell them to patent trolls 6 out of 10 times:

Intellectual Ventures, perhaps the best known patent troll, gets a lot of its patents from universities. And in some cases, universities just skip the middleman and troll themselves:

How do college students feel about this one? The powers that be at Boston University want a federal court to ban the sale of a wide range of Apple products — including the iPhone 5, the iPad and the MacBook Air — because they allegedly infringe a patent issued to one of its professors in 1997.

Boston University is not only seeking an injunction banning the sale of a wide range of Apple products, but is also asking for an accounting of Apple’s profits — meaning the school wants Apple to hand over its earnings from the last few years.

That’s right, Boston University, whose president argued that university research isn’t about making money, sued Apple on a 20 year old patent and asked for a chunk of Apple’s profits.

Here’s a comic that I think sums the whole thing up:

2015 05 07 Universities_and_Patents_by_Matt_Levy