Funding and Intellectual Property

Quick Facts

  • Funding for most programs relies on outside grants and fellowships, Penn does not have much influence over the stipend/funding levels for these schools/departments
  • No other union (public or private) has increased funding for any program, because funding is a strictly academic issue
  • Most funding is through national foundations and organization anyways, which is even further outside of the union’s control
  • Graduate students have the same IP rights has professors
  • No other union contract has any mention of increased IP right

In-Depth Overview

As graduate students, we are focused on completing our degrees, regardless of whether it is in the form of teaching, research, or some combination of the two. GET-UP has repeatedly stated that they will be able to increase our funding, while addressing intellectual property rights. While the union can claim that there will be dramatic improvements, it is important to focus on what is obtainable, and what other graduate student unions have won previously.


On the surface, it might appear that our stipends and funding enjoy a simple relationship between us and the university (as GET-UP is claiming): The university gives us money from their income/endowment, and we in turn provide services in the form of research and teaching.

However, the mechanism is much more complicated. Funding levels are determined by huge number of factors, and can vary across all 12 schools and 100+ programs. Funding for our degrees can be purely external grants (such as the NSF, NIH, and other public/private grants), internal Penn-funded grants, or some combination of the two. It is important to note that no other graduate school union has won increased funding. It is not because other unions don’t want an increase in funding, it is because funding is outside the control of the union, and is strictly an academic issue. Funding is determined by whether or not grants are won, which regardless of whether they are internal or external, are not under the control of a union.

Several schools (such as BGS) are funded almost purely by grants from the NIH, with little to no funding from Penn. External grants (especially government grants from the NIH/NSF) often have stipulations about how much they can pay toward funding degree candidates, and are set years in advance. Any program in which the majority of funds comes from external grants will not likely be able to increase funding length as those have already been determined years in advance by outside agencies.

Schools/programs that are funded primarily through internal grants would not likely benefit either. Winning an internal grant, like an external grant, depends on the academic credentials of the person applying. The union simply can not demand that a professor or PI win more grants in order to increase funding. The fact that no other union has increased funding for its constituents is a testament to lack of jurisdiction a union has over funding.

Intellectual Property

Nothing is more controversial in academy (or industry) as who owns intellectual property. The recent CRISPR court cases show that patent/IP disputes can drag out for years. It is unclear how GET-UP would even improve our IP rights considering that we receive the same share as faculty under Penn’s IP contract (see 4.0.18 INVENTORS).  All of Penn’s employees (including graduate students) are covered under the same contract and it is highly unlikely that GET-UP would be able to negotiate a IP separate contract with Penn. In fact, no other union (NYU or public university) contract addresses IP rights. The NYU contract states that graduate students will receive “appropriate acknowledgement”, which is not a strong commitment to protecting IP rights (see ARTICLE VIII-PROFESSIONAL CONDITION).NYU IP

GET-UP has made vague statements about providing subsidized patent lawyers, but has not indicated if they have contacted any local firms to see if such an option exists. Furthermore, Penn’s IP rights are protected under the Bayh-Dole Act, so it is not clear how GET-UP would be able to counter.  Penn already provides an entire center dedicated to expanding technologies and products developed by students and faculty, in fact over 70 companies that have been started by graduate students and faculty are being supported by Penn.