Telling your university to keep its money-grubbing paws off your hard-earned profits? There's an app for that.
In 2009, Mizzou student Tony Brown kicked ass on a school assignment to make an iPhone app. He and a few other students created NearBuy, an app that tracks apartment listings in your area and allows you to call a listing agent right after you see an ad you like. It's a pretty bright idea and, no doubt, extremely useful in Columbia, where (as I discovered my senior year in a roach-infested hellhole) decent low-rent apartments near campus are a white-hot commodity. So, it's no surprise that the free app was downloaded more than 250,000 times.
NearBuy's wild success, albeit not financial, caught the institution's
attention. Mizzou demanded a 25 percent ownership stake in NearBuy and
two-thirds of any profits it could potentially earn. As the Associated
the university thought it had a right to his work, because it was created
for a class project:
Many universities "generally seek to retain ownership, or at
least have a
formalized mechanism for assessing ownership of a student's work in
much the same way they would regarding a faculty member's work," said
Joshua Powers, an Indiana State University professor who studies campus
technology transfer. Students who create something may face the burden
of showing their work in no way benefited from being at the university.
But Brown and his partners, who didn't get help from a professor or
university funding to develop the application, told the school to shove
off. And, surprisingly, Mizzou tucked its tiger tail between its legs
and gave up its claim. And to the school's credit, they used
NearBuy as a teachable moment and enacted new rules for what they can
claim ownership of. Again, from the AP:
If the invention came from a school contest, extracurricular club or
individual initiative, the university keeps its hands off. If the
student invention came about under a professor's supervision, using
school resources or grant money, then the university can assert an
ownership right -- just as it does for faculty researchers.
That's quite reasonable of them.
Brown is now a graduate student at Mizzou, and the NearBuy experience
has landed him job offers, including one from Google.
Take that, Big Academia!
Photo via rjionline.org.