All grads at Cornell are required to sign away the intellectual property rights* to anything we produce while working here by signing the following:
I agree to assign and do hereby assign to Cornell University all right, title, and interest in any Cornell Invention as defined in Policy 1.5 made in furtherance of my University Responsibilities and/or with the use of University Resources (including but not limited to the performance of a grant, contract, award or gift made to the University by any external agency), and to comply with the provisions of Policy 1.5 Inventions and Related Property Rights as amended from time to time.
Cornell Policy 1.5, mentioned several times above, states that
Cornell requires inventors to assign to the university or its designee all rights, titles, and interests in their inventions and related property rights that result from activity conducted in the course of an appointment.
This longstanding policy has been formed by Cornell administration and management without any serious consideration of the interests of graduate workers. The only conceivable way to renegotiate this policy in order to better reflect our own rights and interests is to use our collective power as workers to negotiate a strong collective bargaining agreement.
In addition, it’s important to contextualize the current intellectual property policy within our rights as workers. Before 2014, Cornell maintained that all graduate workers were not eligible for workers’ compensation coverage. This meant that grads who were injured in the process of producing intellectual property owned by the university would not even be eligible for guaranteed in the form or payment of medical bills or lost wages. Unfortunately, the situation has improved only marginally since that time. It’s still the case that grads whose appointment is as a TA may not be covered under the workers’ compensation policy. In addition, grads funded on fellowship are almost certainly not covered.
We think it’s only fair that if Cornell owns the work we’re producing we ought to at least be covered against injuries that occur in the process. In addition, we’re open to renegotiating the terms of Policy 1.5. After all, we never had any say in them to begin with.
We have more to say about workers’ compensation on that page.
* You may be entitled to one third of the revenue accrued from whatever you invent, but in no case will you retain ownership or licensing rights over the intellectual property. In other words, if you wanted to start a business based on your invention, you would have to pay Cornell for the rights to license your product.