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Around the Columns

Owning the future


When four MU journalism students developed NearBuy, a real estate search application for Apple’s iPhone, it wasn’t going to make them rich. After all, NearBuy costs nothing to download.

But the app’s success did prompt Mizzou to do something few colleges have considered: award students full ownership rights to the intellectual property they develop while enrolled in the university.

“These are arguably some of the most progressive student [intellectual property] rules in the country right now,” says Keith Politte, who manages the MU Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Technology Testing Center. “This is a huge deal.”

The new rules distinguish students from university employees, who share with MU the rights to inventions developed using campus resources and any licensing revenue they generate. Approved by the UM Board of Curators in July 2010, the changes attracted the attention of the Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which awarded Mizzou a $100,000 grant to help advance student entrepreneurship.

The money supports the MU Student Angel Capital Program, which provides startup funding for student entrepreneurs, and Collaboration Leadership and Innovation for Missouri Business, a platform that allows students to build entrepreneurial experience around inventions the university already owns.

The foundation grant will also fund Politte’s project to record the efforts of student entrepreneurs in a series of short videos. The objective is a “digital repository” that captures the evolution of a startup, from the eureka moment to commercialization.

The new intellectual property rules have paved the way for these initiatives by “resetting the playing field” for student entrepreneurs, whom Politte calls “digital natives.” He says the next step is to consider ways to provide legal advice, accounting assistance and other services that young entrepreneurs need to get a business off the ground.

“Students today have better skills and broader expectations of what they can do,” he says. “They expect to go out and create and build. So the university should unleash those students and enable them in as many ways as possible to play on that field.”