On April 11, Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 concluded a review of an intellectual property rights situation with CoolChip Technologies, winner of the 2011 MIT $200K Clean Energy Prize (CEP) Contest. He found that the CoolChip did not violate the rules of the competition, but “was misleading in some of its public presentations.” Grimson said in an interview with The Tech in September that he would be working with the leadership of the CEP to review their rules regarding intellectual property and attribution issues. Since then, he said, he has personally conducted interviews with the three CoolChip founders, the relevant faculty, staff, and students, and the staff of Sandia National Laboratories, which invented the technology in question. Grimson also reviewed CoolChip’s contest submission and the CEP’s rules.
Last May, MIT startup CoolChip Technologies, which develops cooling systems for electronics, won the Grand Prize in MIT’s $200K Clean Energy Prize (CEP) Contest. Founded by William R. Sanchez ’05, Steven J. Stoddard ’06, and Daniel A. Vannoni MBA ’11, CoolChip was subsequently automatically entered in the MIT $100K Business Plan Contest.
In August, questions regarding the startup’s integrity on a matter of intellectual property were raised by an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It claimed that CoolChip’s prizewinning cooling technology was actually Sandia’s device, designed by researcher Jeffrey Koplow, and that CoolChip had misrepresented the technology as their own without proper citation. CoolChip and Sandia have since then resolved the attribution issue — Sandia has “informed [CoolChip] how to easily reference Sandia work in the future without implying our endorsement for their work,” Sandia spokesperson Michael Janes wrote in an email to The Tech in September.
Finding that CoolChip did properly reference the inventor of the technology throughout the written and oral components of the CEP, Grimson concluded that CoolChip did not violate the CEP’s rules. However, the review also said that, outside the scope of the CEP itself, CoolChip should have cited the source of materials, which they neglected to do in some public presentations.
Addressing the broader situation, Grimson’s report stated that the CEP rules needed to be clearer, and MIT “needs to do a better job ensuring that entrants to … student-run competitions understand ethical issues concerning intellectual property.”
According to Grimson, the 2012 Clean Energy Prize rules were already revised to include a “much more precise definition of intellectual property rights,” as well as to resolve some internal inconsistencies.
On how to address a possible disconnect between the written rules governing student-run competitions and how those rules are actually implemented, Grimson said that these events are “learning experiences,” so administrators would rather not strictly regulate every aspect of every group. Instead, he is encouraging faculty supervisors to emphasize the importance of these ethical issues and has discussed their implications with the leaders of some of the larger events on campus to increase visibility.
In addition to working with the organizers of the CEP, Grimson has also discussed entrants’ understanding of intellectual property rights with the 100K directors, and he believes that they have “reacted to those concerns and issues as well.”
“We have so many student groups and student-run competitions, and we tend to offer a lot of freedom to those groups,” said Grimson, “but outreach to the larger events, such as the 100K, will raise visibility of the issues.”