This article is published in the March 2006 issue.

Industrial-Academic Agreement on Open Collaboration

A coalition of computing research companies and universities recently announced an agreement on ‘Open Collaboration’ principles designed to facilitate open source distribution of research results. The parties to the agreement intend this model to be used to handle intellectual property rights arising from certain software-related collaborations between the industrial and academic partners. It is hoped that the existence of this template for IP agreements will expedite sponsored research agreements.

The industrial partners are Cisco, HP, IBM, and Intel and the academic partners are Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and The University of Texas at Austin. The initiative was co-sponsored by IBM and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

The major product of the group is a document entitled “Open Collaboration Principles,” which may be found at: The document describes the basic principles of an agreement called “Free Public Commons.” In the future, the participants may, at their option, enter into collaborations under this agreement; they reserve the right to enter into more conventionally negotiated IP agreements. A few of the important aspects of the Free Public Commons agreement are briefly sketched below.

According to the agreement, the intellectual property created by such collaboration must be made available to the public free of charge for certain uses, including open source software and software-related industry standards. If a participant owns or controls patents necessary to implement the contribution, it is expected, if possible, to make the patents available to the public without charge for implementing such software or standards. A member of the public’s right to use the IP may be terminated if it uses its IP to mount a legal challenge to the implementation of the Public Commons.

While the adoption of the Free Public Commons model is optional in any given collaboration between the industrial and academic partners, some of the partners expect this to be a widely used model in future collaborations. Furthermore, the general trend exemplified by this agreement—of hammering out a template for industrial/academic IP agreements in advance of a particular project—is expected to continue. The partners felt that an open source template was perhaps the easiest to settle upon, and that is why they worked on this one first. They are now discussing additional templates.

The development of templates for industrial/academic IP agreements could dramatically speed up the negotiation of industrially sponsored university research agreements. As noted in the CRA’s Best Practices paper on IP (see and its supporting material, time-to-market is so crucial in the computing business that lengthy negotiations can simply kill a technical project of interest to the technical people on both sides. This hurts all parties, especially the university researchers denied research funding and access to industrial data. Having a variety of commonly used IP agreements for computing-related research could therefore be an enormous help.

J Strother Moore is Professor and Chair of the Department of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, and a member of the CRA Board of Directors.

Industrial-Academic Agreement on Open Collaboration