Summer research fellowship in NY, and other IP news

If you’re interested in the relationship between ideas, interests and institutions, the development of intellectual property law provides a fascinating (somewhat self-referential) case study. The intellectual debate has been running hard against strong IP [1] for a long time, and changes in technology have not only made copying and reproducing all kinds of material much cheaper and easier, but have revealed, on a scale much larger than before, the benefits that can be realised from free access to ideas.

Meanwhile the extension of IP rights, and the expansion of powers to protect them has rolled on as if none of this was happening, at national (DMCA), bilateral (as a standard condition of US-driven free trade agreements) and global (TRIPS) level.

However, there are some positive countervailing developments, one of which has a summer fellowship attached (over the fold).

As this suggests, the US courts and the Patent Office seem to be getting less receptive to the idea that application of routine methods to identify the genes associated with particular proteins creates an ownership claim over those genes.

And in Australia, proposed changes to IP laws will raise patentability standards and protect experimental uses of patented items. Admittedly, these changes mostly serve to bring Australia into line with other countries, but in the past, the ratchet effect has always gone the other way.

And, if you’re a PhD or ABD looking for some work over the summer, you can be part of this.

Peer to patent is a project that

harnesses the power of citizen-experts to assist patent examiners by searching for, identifying, and annotating prior art relevant to pending patent applications. A first Peer to Patent pilot was launched in June 2007. During the first year the project participants (peer reviewers) assisted in the prior art searches on 40 patent applications, generating 173 items of prior art. These items of prior art were the basis of rejection in over ten of the patent applications considered.

They’re offering a three-month summer Fellowship, details here.

fn1. In its crude form, the claim we all see when we hire a DVD, that reproducing or reusing someone else’s “intellectual property” is an act of theft akin to stealing a car. Less crudely stated, but still equivalent, the claim that converting copyright and patent protections from temporary rewards for notable innovators to permanent property rights over intellectual outputs of any kind (including retrospective extension of such rights to existing intellectual outputs) will stimulate innovation.

8 thoughts on “Summer research fellowship in NY, and other IP news

  1. I agree that IP law is too strict. IP is at the end of the day a very artificial form of property.

    The best form of trade liberalisation deal is neither bilateral nor multilateral but unilateral. In a unilateral deal you don’t need to make stupid agreements.

  2. The debate in science is often whether it is worth ones while to file a patent considering the time, money and effort involved. The consensus seems to be rather to publish the results in a good (read; high impact) journal since that is a better way to go about improving your chances of research and salary increases. Considering that most Australian IP is bought out or stolen by foreign manufacturing (since Oz manufacturing is negligible) there is little point on a national level to file a patent. Take the UNSW solar research as an example; hands down worlds-best technology, federally funded, that is now being used by Japan, Germany and especially China, admittedly under license. Once more, we sell them coal and ore and buy the hi tech products back with our government subsidized solar rebates. Said it before, say it again; legislate that Superannuation funds must invest 20% in Australian green start-ups.

  3. As an individual with a number of patents in various stages I say that the patenting process is an essential element cfor the commercialising of imagination. Without this there would be a shutdown of flow of innovation. This is the communism versus capitalism argument in another form, but with the worst possible outcome if the patenting process was weakened or eleiminated. At least under communism ideas people had the prospect of an improvement in their situation for the successful implementation of an idea. An ideas person in the capitalist world knows that if an organisation gets hold of a solid unprotected idea the usurper not only runs off with the cash they humiliate the originator to shut them to eliminate a plausible connection to the idea.

    At the same time getting a real commercial return from an idea is a long shot at the very best. But take a way that HOPE of recogition and you will very quickly see a stagnation of innovation.

    Having said that, there are many forms of intellectual property. Some hold greater strength that others. Copyright for instance is (I believe) is indeffinite, and free. Patents are limited and expensive (200 thousand dollars plus,plus,plus for an interantional patent). Perhaps much of the concern over IP comes from the reownership of copyrighted material. How long should ownership carry forward for?

  4. From Wikipaedia

    Copyright subsists for a variety of lengths in different jurisdictions. The length of the term can depend on several factors, including the type of work (e.g. musical composition, novel), whether the work has been published or not, and whether the work was created by an individual or a corporation. In most of the world, the default length of copyright is the life of the author plus either 50 or 70 years. In the United States, the term for most existing works is a fixed number of years after the date of creation or publication. In some countries (for example, the United States[24] and the United Kingdom[25]), copyrights expire at the end of the calendar year in question.

    The length and requirements for copyright duration are subject to change by legislation, and since the early 20th century there have been a number of adjustments made in various countries, which can make determining the duration of a given copyright somewhat difficult. For example, the United States used to require copyrights to be renewed after 28 years to stay in force, and formerly required a copyright notice upon first publication to gain coverage. In Italy and France, there were post-wartime extensions that could increase the term by approximately 6 years in Italy and up to about 14 in France. Many countries have extended the length of their copyright terms (sometimes retroactively). International treaties establish minimum terms for copyrights, but individual countries may enforce longer terms than those.

    I would make the comment that without copyright there is substantially reduced commercial value in much intellectual material. And without this commercial incentive to widely distribute such material, my daughter would not have 3000 tunes on her ipod. She would have a handful of folk tunes recorded by local artists, and herself.

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