With new apps worth big money, the legal questions are now being debated across academia.

Many universities “generally seek to retain ownership, or at least have a formalized mechanism for assessing ownership of a student’s work in much the same way they would regarding a faculty member’s work,” said Joshua Powers, an Indiana State University professor who studies campus technology transfer.

Students who create something might face the burden of showing their work in no way benefited from being at the university.

But Missouri relented in Brown’s case. It also wrote rules explicitly giving student inventors the legal right to their unique ideas developed under specific circumstances.

If the invention came from a school contest, extracurricular club, or individual initiative, the university keeps its hands off. If the student invention came about under a professor’s supervision, using school resources or grant money, then the university can assert an ownership right—just as it does for faculty researchers.

No estimate exists on the number or value of student inventions or apps on the market.

The Association of University Technology Managers and other industry groups don’t track the number of schools that have defined legal protections for student inventors. But technology managers at Missouri and elsewhere suggest the argument for protecting student rights is growing.


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