Today the computer science students around the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico Bayamón campus were abuzz with visions of grandeur. It seems that over the last few weeks the faculty has been discussing and preparing to participate in the 2006 Imagine Cup, which is sponsored by Microsoft Corporation.
The Imagine Cup is an annual competition that provides an opportunity for young technologists to help solve some of the world’s toughest problems. Students from high school and college can compete within different categories - Software Design, IT, Short Film, Algorithm, Project Hoshimi Programming Battle, and Interface Design - all focused on this year’s theme, health. The competition is organized into regional invitationals; with a world-wide finals held this year in Dehli, India.
The main focus of the Imagine Cup is the software design competition. Teams of up to four persons are asked to build health-related solution that feature a self created Web service, is designed on .NET Framework 2.0, and uses Visual Studio for development. Invitational winners will receive $8,000 and an all expenses trip to India to compete in the world-wide finals. The winners of the Imagine Cup will receive $25,000 and world wide recognition. What a wonderful opportunity! There is a small catch, however. According to the legal notice for the competition, by accepting the prizes, competitors must:
“… agree that Microsoft shall be free to use for any purpose the residuals resulting from access to or work with your Application. The term “residuals” means information in intangible form, which is retained in memory by persons who have had access to the Applications, including ideas, concepts, know-how, or techniques contained within.
By entering you agree that Microsoft will not have any obligation to limit or restrict the assignment of such persons or to pay royalties for any work resulting from the use of residuals. “
So although as the legal notice states later, you are not granting a license of any copyrights or patents, you grant Microsoft an irrevocable, royalty free, fully paid up, worldwide license to use, review, assess, test and otherwise analyze your entry and all its content in connection with this Contest. Although this is the fourth year for the Imagine Cup, this is the first year I have heard students I know talking about it. Now that I have checked into the details, I find the conditions for this contest deplorable. Microsoft is trying to fund its research and development by stealing the ideas from young students. This couldn’t be any clearer when you compare the terms and conditions to another competition of sorts that Paul Graham founded in the form of Y Combinator.
If selected to participate as a Y Combinator founder, each team receives a $6,000 (per person) stipend to work for three months under the mentorship of Paul Graham and his associates. In exchange Y Combinator helps each team create a company, incorporate, present their technology to angel investors (including Yahoo and Google), and retain full ownership of all rights to their work. Y Combinator receives up to a 7 percent stake in each company for their efforts.
If you were a talented young technologist, which competition would you rather enter? One where you slave over a piece of software for months with the hope of winning $33,000, a trip to India, but giving away the license for someone else to market your software or doing the same amount of work and walking away with full rights minus 7% of any profits if you sell that software to Google?
The Imagine Cup is a huge farce and should be resented by any institution or country that is trying to install in their youth the entrepreneurial spirit. I recommend any teams that are considering this competition to seriously evaluate the cost of giving Microsoft “an irrevocable, royalty free, fully paid up, worldwide license to use” your innovation. I would also recommend reading Thomas Friedman’s book “The World is Flat”. Then do yourself a favor and check out the Y Combinator’s Founders program. The world has indeed been flattened and the Imagine Cup represents old world thinking.
Am I missing something here?