Do University Patents Pay Off? Evidence From a Survey of University Inventors in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering

Brian J. Love
16 Yale J.L. & Tech. 285

Studies of the costs and benefits of university patent ownership have, to date, focused on life sciences technology. Increasingly, however, many of the most lucrative university-owned patents relate to computing and telecommunications, not genes or pharmaceuticals. In 2007, a University of California spin-off named Eolas settled a patent suit with Microsoft for $100 million. In 2010, Cornell University won a $184 million jury verdict against Hewlett-Packard in a case that later settled on confidential terms. And most recently, in 2014, Carnegie Mellon University received a $1.5 billion judgment-one of the largest patent damages awards in history-in an ongoing suit against Marvell Semiconductors.
As universities shift their focus in the patent arena, so too must those studying tech transfer. Commentators generally agree that the costs and benefits of the patent system vary greatly across industries and many place the high-tech and bio-tech industries at opposite ends of that spectrum. Accordingly, universities would be well advised to reassess the costs and benefits of their own tech transfer programs as they allocate more resources to high-tech patenting.
This Article examines the pros and cons of university patenting in high-tech fields by reporting the findings of a survey of professors at major U.S. universities who teach and research in the areas of computer science and electrical engineering.