On May 9, 2011, winners were announced in the fourth annual MIT Clean Energy Prize. The competition, which is designed to encourage innovation in energy, was conceived by the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and is supported largely by the Massachusetts utility company NSTAR and the U.S. Department of Energy.
The grand prize of $200,000 went to CoolChip Technologies, a team led by three MIT students. During the summer of 2011, several third parties, including a reporter from The Chronicle of Higher Education, contacted MIT, raising questions about the validity of CoolChip’s entry, including whether CoolChip had misrepresented the ownership of technology invented at Sandia National Laboratories in its submission and whether it had violated the rules of the competition. The Chronicle published an article raising these concerns on Aug. 28, 2011.
The Tech also covered this story. It quoted MIT’s Chancellor, Eric Grimson, saying that he would conduct a review of the facts around the matter.
Grimson has concluded his review, and he has found that:
- CoolChip did not break the rules of the Prize: both in writing and orally, it identified the inventors of the devices it referenced in its business plan.
- MIT needs to do a better job ensuring that entrants to the Clean Energy Prize, and other student-run competitions, understand ethical issues concerning intellectual property and that they take great care in how they publicly present intellectual property that did not originate with them.
- The rules of the Prize need clarification and the rules and compliance statement need to be better aligned.
- CoolChip should have cited the source of materials used in some of its public presentations.
The summary of Grimson’s review can be found on the chancellor’s website.
“The Clean Energy Prize and other student-run competitions bring out great enthusiasm and creativity in students both on and off our campus,” said Grimson, “and we owe it to them to ensure that the rules of these contests are perfectly understood by all. I am grateful to the students and faculty who helped me home in on the commonsensical changes that we should make in order to prevent misunderstandings — and to ensure that our contestants take extra care to think through the sensitivities that naturally surround intellectual property.”
The U.S. Department of Energy is aware and supportive of MIT’s review of the 2011 Clean Energy Prize and Chancellor Grimson’s efforts in resolving the matter surrounding Cool Chip Technologies’ participation in the Prize.