Apr 19, 2012
This is Chris Shing’s Triple Helix fellowship blog.
by Kirk Jalbert
During the development of the RPI sensor in collaboration with the MDL team Chris, Louis and I ran into a rather serious problem over differing opinions on how copyright should be applied to the completed software and hardware. While the Statement of Work stated that the project would be fully open source as seen in the excerpt (below), the MDL administration decided all creations exiting the MDL lab were property of the lab…
We will create a prototype environmental sensor system, using mixtures of proprietary and non-proprietary components. This sensor system will operate as a generic platform from which a larger infrastructure can be built. Designers of custom sensor technology, such as Sawyer/Shing and others will then be able to utilize this infrastructure to deploy their technologies into the SOOS sensor community.
The MDL team will be primarily responsible for developing the sensor system/hardware and device interface with the end goal of launching a stable prototype by end of Spring semester 2011. During this time Gutierrez will be developing the software infrastructure for the SOOS online community. While much of the basic online structure will be built on available Open Source technology, some special-purpose utilities will be developed in partnership with the MDL team to support the sensor device. The MDL team will also work in collaboration with the oversight team to create supporting documents and educational tools for the community of users (e.g. circuit diagrams, instruction modules, physical layouts and other documents not normally part of open source but critical to the SOOS community).
The crux of the problem was a core disagreement over what “open source” implied as an educational directive in research projects. As far as we were concerned, if the project was developed with open source principles and the parties agreed to the language in the contractual SOW all was well. Various offices across campus, however, each had their own definition of what constituted our intellectual property vs. the inherent right of the school to claim ownership over work done in their facilities. Ultimately, the ruling decision was made by the “Office of Technology Commercialization” that the SOW was indeed a binding contract and the Open Source agreement had to stand.
Interestingly, the MDL administration agreed to this mediation by justifying it as a financial argument:
In this regard, our general policy and stated objective in the Design Lab has been to identify sustainable funding sources for service oriented projects that will facilitate our working for charitable causes in to the future. As an exception to this general policy and in the interest of promoting entrepreneurial initiatives on the part of the Navajo and Ghanaian people, I’m proposing that we (i.e., RPI and the Design Lab) do not claim IP protection on either of these two projects.
Nevertheless, this is a far more complicated story than I can tell in this blog entry. If you’d like to see the full version go see the 2-part presentation I gave to the Rensselaer Center for Open Source in July of 2011 here: