Thursday 26 July 2018

Facebook, Artifical Intelligence, IP and Universities

In a recent New York Times article, “Facebook Adds AI Labsin Seattle and Pittsburg, Pressuring Local Universities,” Cade Metz describes Facebook’s push to hire leading academics in the artificial intelligence space.  It appears that at least some of the university researchers are retaining their university positions—although one article states that an 80/20% split of work for one researcher with 80% work for Facebook.  This arrangement appears to be similar to ordinary sponsored research relationships.  Sponsored research relationships in the United States have received quite a bit of attention from academics.  Notably, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has released a relatively detailed document outlining best practices for industry/university sponsored research relationships—over 50 best practices principles.  Several principles include faculty engagement on issues concerning intellectual property ownership, management and transfer.  Principle 14 states:

PRINCIPLE 14—IP Management and Sponsored Research Agreements: In negotiating sponsored research agreements, university administrators should make every effort to inform potentially affected faculty researchers and to involve them meaningfully in early-stage negotiations concerning invention management and intellectual property. In the case of large-scale sponsored research agreements like Strategic Corporate Alliances (SCAs), which can affect large numbers of faculty, not all of whom may be identifiable in advance, a special faculty governance committee should be convened to participate in early-stage negotiations, represent collective faculty interests, and ensure compliance with relevant university protocols. Faculty participation in all institutionally negotiated sponsored-research agreements should always be voluntary.

Principle 18 concerns upfront intellectual property licensing and states:

PRINCIPLE 18—Upfront Exclusive Licensing Rights for Research Sponsors: Universities should refrain from signing sponsored research agreements, especially multi-year strategic corporate alliance (SCA) agreements, that grant sponsors broad title or exclusive commercial rights to future sponsored research inventions and discoveries—unless such arrangements are narrowly defined and agreed to by all faculty participating in, or foreseeably affected by, the alliance. If this is not feasible, as in the case of larger SCAs, the faculty senate should review and approve the agreement and confirm its compatibility with academic freedom, faculty independence, and the university’s public interest mission. All parties should consider the impact exclusive licenses could have on future uses of technologies. When granted, exclusive rights should be defined as narrowly as possible, restricted to targeted fields of use, and designed to safeguard against abuse of the exclusive position.

In an article by Nat Levy in GeekWire, which includes responses from the Chief AI Scientist for Facebook, Yann LeCun, LeCun outlines how Facebook is careful not to divert too many resources from universities in crafting their relationship with them.  Notably, on IP rights, LeCun states:

“Facebook is not interested in stopping others for using the technology we develop,” LeCun said. “In fact it has that as an advertised policy, patents that are filed by Facebook are never for stopping other people from using it, so that makes it easy to collaborate.”

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