Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Is all knowledge intellectual property?

Today I read seventeen university Intellectual Property policies, which was just about as interesting as it sounds, largely. Except I noticed something I had not expected. Universities do not all share the same idea of knowledge as property. There were three ideas about knowledge as property:

1. The majority of the 17 universities I looked at considered all knowledge produced in their university to be intellectual property. Added to this property, by various legal mechanisms, would be varying levels of protection. The policy, normally, was implemented as the means of protecting this. Thus, knowledge is intrinsically intellectual property, according to this view.

2. Some of the universities saw knowledge as not intrinsically property. That is, knowledge is just knowledge (or something) until it is legally protected, at which point it becomes intellectual property. Some were specific enough to state that knowledge became intellectual property once it was tradeable and therefore in need of protection.

3. The third way was held by just one of the university policies I read through today. It saw all knowledge produced in the university as knowledge “assets” – that therefore belonged to the university – but knowledge did not become intellectual property until it was protected for the purposes of trade.

These 17 universities were not chosen at random, but the reasoning of that selection is not as important here as the relationship between this interpretation of knowledge as property by the universities and this passage from a basic text on intellectual property in Australia:

“The principal danger … is falling into the trap of assuming that any identifiable ‘thing’ must belong to someone. In the present context this translates to the erroneous belief that all fruits of intellectual activity have some intrinsic claim to be treated as property. … [suggests other factors must be weighed to decide on the rights accorded, which answers the other extreme, that] proprietary analysis is fundamentally inappropriate in this area … this goes too far, for it depends on the extent of the rights granted, a point that is true whether or not those rights are described as proprietary”. (McKeogh et al, p. 19)

Whether all knowledge, or just the tradeable bits, is considered to be property is very important.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009


The Harvard crest…contains the single word ‘Veritas’ or ‘truth’ … There is a modesty and economy of purpose here that is appealing, although further reflection may suggest that the pursuit of ‘truth’, however defined, is a highly ambitious goal that may be beyond any human institution.

Ann Monotti and Sam Ricketson (2003). Universities and Intellectual Property. Oxford University Press, p.14

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Gift. More.

The Gift

p. 18 This confusion of personalities and things is precisely the mark of exchange contracts.

p. 22 The gift received is in fact owned, but the ownership if of a particular kind. One might say that it includes many legal principles which we moderns have isolated from one another. It is at the same time property and a possession, a pledge and a loan, an object sold and an object bought, a deposit, a mandate and a trust…

p. 24 The first gift…has the name of vaga, opening gift. It definitely binds the recipient to make a return gift, the yotile …the clinching gift. Another name for this is kudu, the tooth which bites, severs and liberates. It is obligatory; it is expected and must be equivalent to the first gift; it may be taken by force or surprise. One can avenge non-payment by magic… If one is unable to repay, one may, if necessary, offer a basi, a tooth which does not bite through but only pierces the skin and leaves the transaction unfinished.

P. 25 To obtain this vaga [permanent tie to a circular gift-exchange system] a man may flatter his future partner, who is still independent, and to whom he is making a preliminary series of presents. … p. 26 Some gifts of this kind have titles which express the legal implications of their acceptance… To receive it is actually to commit oneself tp return the vaga… For the cause is a great one; the association made establishes a kind of clan link…To get your man you have to seduce him and dazzle him … The underlying motives are competition, rivalry, show, and a desire for greatness and wealth.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

More scholar for the dollar: draft chapter

More scholar for the dollar: knowledge in the 1980s
First Draft, 3 March 2009

Introduction: academics' bad name
Relevance, efficiency and the emerging marketplace (1980-1982)
Commercial research and the new-fashioned academic (1983-1985)
Exporting and privatising higher education (1985-1986)
Intervening to instate a free market: Dawkins (1987-1988)
Aftermath: the woes of public and private universities (1989)
Conclusions: universities in a free(ish) market (1990)

As always, any thoughts, please email me.

The gift

I am starting to think about gifts, for a few reasons.
1. Patterns of exchange, the distinctions between gifts and commodities, their similarities
2. Teaching as gift-giving
3. Universities as gift-culture and the complex systems of obligation that maybe creates.

Thoughts not going that far. These are someone else's, 55 years ago.

Marcel Mauss, The Gift. 1954

10. It is clear that in Maori custom this bond created by things is in fact a bond vetween persons, since the thing itself is a person or pertains to a person … one gives away what is in reality a part of one’s nature and substance, while to receive something is to receive a part of someone’s spiritual essence. To keep this thing is dangerous…because it comes morally, physically and spiritually from a person. Whatever it is…it retains a magical and religious hold over the recipient. The thing given is not inert. It is alive and often personified, and strives to bring to its original clas and homeland some equivalent to take its place.

11. It is easy to find a large number of facts on the obligation to receive…the obligation to give is no less important. If we understood this, we should also know how men [sic…but this is the only one I’ll bother to do, it was 1954…] came to exchange things with each other. … to refuse to give, or fail to invite, is – like refusing to accept – the equivalent of a declaration of war; it is a refusal of friendship and intercourse. Again, one gives because one is forced to do so, because the recipient has a sort of proprietary right over everything which belongs to the donor. This right is expressed and conceived as a sort of spiritual bond. Thus in Australia the man who owes all the game he kills to his father- and mother-in-law may eat nothing in their presence for feat that their very breath should poison his food.

13. the connection of exchange contracts among men with those between men and gods explains a whole aspct of the theory of sacrifice…there has been a natural evolution. Among the first groups of beings with whom men must have made contracts were the spirits of the dead and the gods. They in fact are the real owners of the world’s wesalth. With them it was particularly necessary to exchange and particularly dangerous not to; but, on the other hand, with them exchange was easiest and safest.