Nearly half (49%) of Millennials hope to start a business within three years, according to America’s Small Business Development Centers and The Center for Generational Kinetics. Members of Gen Z are almost as likely to possess an entrepreneurial spirit; 41% plan to start their own business. As Millennials and the generations after them opt for less traditional jobs and inventions are patented at greater rates, IP literacy becomes more important for a greater number of people.
The intellectual property policies and curriculums at research universities are designed to guide a limited number of students through the intricacies of IP. Institutions can’t be blamed for this approach; intellectual property is a complex topic that, until recently, only applied to specific courses of study. However, Millennials and Zoomers are forging their own paths to success, paths that require intellectual property rights. Nearly half of Gen Z notes they want to “invent something world-changing.” We can imagine these inventors would benefit from patent protection!
While not all of these young inventors and entrepreneurs will attend research universities (Gen Z, in particular, is wary of student loan debt), these institutions serve as a starting point for equitable IP education. VentureWell and The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property partnered in 2020 to understand how universities—as well as smaller schools or even nontraditional educational organizations—could support student innovators. The findings were published in the organizations’ recent report, Strengthening University-Based Systems to Support the Development of Intellectual Property (IP) Strategies: Insights from Faculty, Administrators, and Students.
We know that securing patent protection or other intellectual property rights for a new technology can propel a startup toward success. However, even when university IP policies empower student innovators (which is not always the case), students don’t know where to turn when they’re ready to take their IP beyond the classroom. IP policies that raise barriers to commercialization or a culture that prioritizes scientific discovery over monetization further complicate students’ experiences.
Almost three-quarters of Millennials would be “more likely to start a business if they knew where to get help.” As more students look for startup-worthy ideas, universities must provide IP resources to a diverse range of innovators. VentureWell found that in order to both support and resonate with student inventors, IP education must be relevant to their discipline and where they are in the innovation cycle. In order to provide this kind of support, writes The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property founder Gary Michelson, M.D., university IP curriculums should extend beyond the classroom with cross-department communication; centralized resources (such as an accessible TTO); and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. These in-house resources can, and should, be backed by external support, both financial and intellectual.