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Harvard Had a Stronger Claim to Facebook than the Winklevoss Twins, Law Prof Says

Posted May 18, 2012 9:04 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Policies buried in college student handbooks are being cited by universities asserting that they are due a cut of the profits from inventions conceived on campus.

Harvard wasn’t one of them, Stanford law fellow Brian Love writes in the Boston Globe. Facebook was invented by Mark Zuckerberg and his friends working in a Harvard dorm on a Harvard computer network, says Love, who is moving to Santa Clara law school as an assistant professor this fall.

Harvard “could have asserted a stronger claim to the company than the Winklevoss twins and Paul Ceglia combined,” he writes.

Love suggests Harvard made the right move, since it reaped “a reinvigorated reputation as a dream school for entrepreneurial teens.” Other universities took another approach. “In the money-centric culture of today’s universities, when dorm-room projects transform into something valuable, school officials usually come calling and rarely play nice,” Love writes. He cites these examples:

• Stanford obtained an equity stake in Google that sold in 2005 for $336 million. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were Stanford grad students when they invented the web search technology.

• Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen was a University of Illinois undergrad when he led development of the first popular web browser. A lawsuit resulted in a cash settlement.

• University of South Florida undergrad Petr Taborsky, who discovered a method for treating polluted water, was imprisoned for 18 months on a theft charge after he retrieved his university lab notebooks and filed his own patent applications. A 1996 Los Angeles Times article has details, including the fact that Taborsky was originally sentenced to house arrest and probation, then imprisoned based on a claim he violated probation for pursuing the patent application.

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