Book Publishing Operations: Intellectual Property Agreements

14 Feb

Happy Valentine’s Day from Harlingen as my acquisitions trip finishes up today. (Tomorrow I’ll have a full day of driving as I head back to Waco.)

This morning I had meetings where intellectual property agreements were signed by Diana Gafford and Dr. Mike Hosseinpour of the Developmental Math department and Art Olivares of the Machining Technology department at TSTC Harlingen. So this seems to be an appropriate time to discuss intellectual property issues that we deal with on a regular basis.

“Intellectual property” can be loosely defined, in the sense I’ll be discussing it, as either a newly created concept/process or a new product. For example, if you invented a cold fusion process that worked and could be replicated, that would be an example of the former type of intellectual property. If you wrote a book about cold fusion, that would be an example of the latter.

In the case of publishing books written by people not employed by TSTC, there are two options for contractual agreements concerning the work produced. First, it may be work-for-hire (that is, we pay someone a flat rate to write a book that the school subsequently owns). Or, second, if the work is owned by the author, they authorize us to publish it and then reimburse them on a royalty basis (that is, a traditional author-publisher relationship).

In the case of faculty producing new concepts/products while employed by a college or university, the situation can be a bit more complicated. That is, some schools say that faculty can do research during their typical work day at a school using school resources to produce new intellectual property that by default will belong to those faculty members. In the case of MIT’s OpenCourseWare project, the school even actively works to freely disseminate on the Internet certain materials—that is, intellectual property—developed by faculty. At the other end of the spectrum, some schools will say that any work done on school time using school resources belong solely to the school. For an examination of the problems that can arise from this approach, I’d suggest taking a look at Jennifer Washburn’s University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education.

TSTC has taken a thoughtful middle position in that before new intellectual property is created, faculty and the school sign off on agreement before a project is begun to establish ownership of the final “work” to be created. The specifics of TSTC’s guidelines can be found in its System Operating Standard on Intellectual Property. This is a long document that has been revised many times but, for our purposes in publishing, there are three basic options for ownership of the intellectual property created: employee, institution, and joint employee-institution.

Most of the time—given the particulars of a project—we opt for joint employee-institution ownership. In this case, the copyright for the work completed stays in the name of the TSTC faculty/authors who, in turn, license TSTC Publishing to publish to completed work for as long as it is in print. At the same time, because there is joint ownership, this means that faculty can work on these projects during their normal work day at the school and use school resources such as computers, printers, and so on.

So, in the final analysis, with persons not employed by the school, it’s a one-step process where we sign a contract with them to publish a book. With persons employed by the school, it is a two-step process where we first complete an intellectual property agreement prior to be project being begun followed later on—as a project’s development meets certain benchmarks—by a contract to publish the resulting book itself.


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