Ohio State is investigating a startup company for copyright infringements and violation of trade secret information after a potential deal between the university and the company’s CEO went awry.
OSU is attempting to commercialize a curriculum management software system used by the College of Medicine called nSPIRE. The university has been working “for some time” on making it available to sell for third-party use, OSU spokesman Gary Lewis said in an email.
The university looked to Jason Adams in June to work on marketing the product to third parties. Adams was just “one party” OSU was looking at for the deal, and Lewis did not say who or how many others were also being considered.
Conversations with Adams, however, ended in October and Adams founded nSpireU LLC, an independent startup based in Dublin, Ohio, in November, hoping to launch a product similar to OSU’s nSPIRE software.
Lewis was not specific about the reason that conversations ended.
“Ohio State did not move forward with Mr. Adams because his proposal was not in the best interests of Ohio State,” Lewis said.
Adams declined to comment on why the deal didn’t work out.
“We wish them (OSU) the best of luck in their ongoing process and we’re confident in honoring and understanding the commitment we made during the commercialization process,” Adams said of the investigation.
Lewis cited legal reasons for being unable to say why OSU initialized the investigation of nSpireU, how the investigation is going or if any infringements have been found. Lewis said Monday, however, OSU has not filed a lawsuit.
nSpireU is a curriculum management software that tracks educational data to give instructors feedback and supports “sudent-centered” learning, according to its website.
Timothy Wright, interim vice president of technology commercialization at OSU, and Phyllis Teater, chief information officer and associate vice president of the OSU Wexner Medical Center, deferred requests for comment to Lewis.
Adams said it has yet to be determined when nSpireU will launch its software and declined to comment on any potential interest from other universities.
Meanwhile, “OSU is actively pursuing commercializing the software with other parties,” Lewis said.
Jack Greiner, an attorney at Graydon Head, a law firm in Cincinnati, said while it isn’t common for universities to pursue lawsuits regarding copyright infringement and trade secret information, it is common for businesses.
“I can’t say that I’ve seen a lot of situations with universities bringing this type of lawsuit but plenty of other business and individuals,” Greiner said. “A university has an interest in protecting its research and development and if someone takes that and uses it to their own advantage they at least have the right to pursue that.”
If OSU were to file a suit, Greiner said one of the difficulties in the case for OSU would be proving nSpireU used software that it has a copyright on.
Generally, copyright law presumes that whoever created the product or idea has ownership of it, Greiner said.
While the nSPIRE software was created by OSU about four years ago, Adams’ role with OSU would have been working to market the existing product to third parties, Lewis said.
Columbus Business First reported in January the major issue between Adams and OSU was getting the software ready to be moved to market. Adams said the software would need to be rewritten from scratch before it was commercialized.
Lewis declined to comment on specifics of any agreement between OSU and Adams because of the ongoing investigation.
Though this deal didn’t work out, that’s not stopping OSU from wanting to move forward with commercialization of other products.
“Some of the university’s best intellectual property are tools and systems designed in-house for our use. We believe that many of them have value in the commercial marketplace. We’re working with a variety of partners and supporters to help take our Buckeye-born innovation to market,” Lewis said.
Greiner said commercialization of intellectual property might become a growing trend for universities.
“Universities with shrinking enrollments and more competition for students are absolutely going to be looking at those kinds of sources and they’re going to want to protect it. It’s an investment,” he said.