All universities and other research organisations (for brevity, the term ‘university’ is employed, and refers not just to a university, but to all forms of a non-for-profit research organisation) have intellectual property (IP) policies. Like other policies, they serve an important function, stating the university’s position upon diverse matters ranging from conflicts of interests, to paid outside employment by academic staff, and from campus security to the use of the university’s libraries. But university IP policies go further than just stating a policy. They seek, by force of the policy alone, to change where the ownership of IP lies. This article describes the legal basis for IP policy in the US, Australia, United Kingdom and Canada with regard to staff in Universities.There is a bleaker view of education in the announcement by the ACCC earlier this year - noted as part of a project on regulation of the for-profit VET sector - that proceedings were underway in the Federal Court against Australian Institute of Professional Education Pty Ltd (AIPE).
AIPE is a provider of VET FEE-HELP Diploma courses. The ACCC alleges that AIPE enrolled approximately 15,426 students into VET FEE-HELP Diploma courses between January 2013 and 1 December 2015 and accordingly received over $210 million from the Commonwealth.
AIPE used face-to-face marketing, including door-to-door sales, as well as telemarketing. It is alleged that AIPE made false or misleading representations and engaged in unconscionable conduct, in breach of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). For example, it is alleged that AIPE represented to prospective students that they would receive a free laptop or tablet and that the course(s) were free or were free if the consumer did not earn approximately more than $50,000 per annum. In fact, the laptop or tablet students received were on loan. Students enrolled in the courses incurred a VET FEE-HELP debt payable to the Commonwealth, with repayment commencing if they earned over a specified amount in a financial year ($53,345 in the 2014-2015 income year).
It is also alleged that AIPE’s pattern of behaviour for enrolling students into its courses and its dealings with vulnerable consumers was, in all the circumstances, unconscionable.
ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said
: “We allege AIPE marketed its courses to some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in the Australian community, including consumers from low socio-economic backgrounds and consumers with intellectual disabilities. Further, for these online courses, some people were enrolled who had limited reading and writing skills, could not use a computer, and were not able to use email. We allege that AIPE failed to take adequate steps to ensure that it was not taking advantage of these vulnerable consumers.”
“It is also alleged that AIPE engaged in a pattern of behaviour that allowed sales to be made using incentives such as “free” laptops, Wi-Fi access and mobile phone credits, which involved the use of unfair tactics and failed to provide clear and accurate information about the price of the courses and the nature of the VET FEE-HELP loan,”NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe said
“This is yet another reminder to colleges that prospective students need to be properly informed before they can be enrolled. Prospective students need to know that by signing up for a course they do not get a free laptop, they incur a lifetime debt,”.