Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The IP Myth

The following quotes are from Elizabeth Garnsey in 2007, suggesting IP management as research policy for universities was based on a myth, used too-hopefully by policy makers in need of financial and economic solutions in the 1980s and 1909s.

“A consensus of this kind emerges among practitioners when it provides a welcome message with an apparent though partial basis in facts and, above all, offers relatively simple solutions to complex problems.

The idea of the entrepreneurial university suggested that a focus on patentable research and commercialisation might solve pressing problems facing policy makers. The message that universities should transform themselves into entrepreneurial sources of intellectual property pointed to a new source of funding … The idea that university spinoff companies could be a basis for renewal of economies…was particularly welcome to policy makers pinning their hopes on the new knowledge economy as the solution to the threat of competition from globalization.

A focus on managing university IP has the advantage for policy makers of avoiding confrontation with traditional ways of organising the faculties…which would arouse more broadly based opposition.

The major changes in academic culture and teaching structure required to move European universities in this [entrepreneurial] direction would be a much greater challenge to policy than charging technology transfer offices with managing university-sourced IP and offering optional classes in entrepreneurship.

But in most sectors, companies are not sufficiently certain that major revenues will result from collaboration to pay license fees and negotiate university IP obstacles … these companies do not buy in to the new consentual vision, and their advocates are actively challenging this vision.

The question that arises is whether prescribing the nature of the university’s entrepreneurial role and advocating IP management are likely to promote the autonomy and ingenuity of innovators… Does this approach recognise that genuine conflicts of interest between science and commerce may persist?

Monday, 27 April 2009


Somehow, this description of intellectual property's importance in the knowledge economy evokes dystopian science-fiction type images for me:

“Knowledge resides in the human brain, and unlike plant and equipment or other physical means of production, knowledge is easily replicated and transferred to others. With knowledge generally equating to value, not only does it matter who owns what is in a person’s head but also harvesting that knowledge and controlling its dissemination is critical in a competitive environment.”

Arena and Carreras, 2008, The Business of Intellectual Property, Oxford, p.29.

Intellectual property - an attempt to aggregate that which has disintegrated?

I’ve been thinking about the need for “intellectual property” policies rather than separate “patent” and copyright” etc policies, as perhaps reflecting a blurring of the roles of “inventor”, “author”, “composer”, “artist” and “practitioner” so that perhaps it was safer to cover the diverse and probably increasing possibilities of knowledge creation roles and outcomes as broad “intellectual property”. The blurring is probably a result of the blurring of the boundaries of knowledge itself…

This of course goes well with Gibbons et al Mode 2 and the following is a quote from the 1994 book, The New Production of Knowledge (p.83).

“There seems to be a paradox here. Just when the university has become a more powerful centripetal institution, the knowledge which is its chief commodity has become diffuse, opaque, incoherent, centrifugal. This has taken three forms. The first is the ceaseless subdivision of knowledge of greater scientific sophistication. Many of today’s most creative sub-disciplines have been formed by associating previously unconnected fragments of other disciplines. These new fields of enquiry tend to be volatile and parochial, both qualities which undermine the idea of a broader and coherent intellectual culture. The second is that ider definitions of knowledge have come to be accepted, partly because if the erosion of older ideas of academic respectability and partly because of the impact of new technologies…The third form of disintegration is the deliberately decentred diversity and incoherence associated with postmodernism.

…These forms are contradictory in their details. For example, the subdivision of science into expert fragments can be taken to represent the triumph of positivism; postmodernism can be taken to mark its death. But all three have had the common effect of making it almost impossible to talk sensibly about the wholeness of knowledge.”

Shifting intellectual values and altered constructions of knowledge

"Massification is not heading straight to a Brave New or a Big Bad World; its consequences are ambiguous. To explain these trends solely in socio-economic, political and organisational terms as is generally the case, leads to a failure to recognise their complexity and inherent ambiguity. Rarely are they examined in relation to shifting intellectual values and altered constructions of knowledge."

Gibbons et al, p.81

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Some things about research policy and intellectual property

Reading late 80s early 90s on research policy and intellectual property. There was a lot of stuff being written, I suspect because everyone wanted to be the one to have a say in the new "priority setting" of research and thought if they said it best it would be them (see NBEET/ARC/HEC Advice on Transfer of operating funds to competitive grants, also ASTEC report on setting priorities, ARC report on prorities, the ARC on the public funding of research).

Intellectual property itself seems to have been driven by multiple motives though. I'll see if I can list what they might be:

- some adjustment is being made due to the new ARC and its requirement of institutions to "protect" the "industrial property" created via ARC funding (1989, ARC Advice to Applicants)

- Institutions, with encouragement by government, are collaborating more with industry, raising previously irrelevant questions about ownership (Monotti et al).

- new ways of producing knowledge are emerging, and the old chain of basic-strategic-applied is collapsing into "Mode 2" research, which is in part a response to an economy where competitiveness is increasingly based on innovation rather than mass production (Gibbons et al. Also NBEET/ARC report on Commercialisation in 1992, also AVCC on universities in a changing world 1992)

- government and its research advisory organisation (of which there are stacks - ARC, NBEET, HEC, ASTEC, PMSEIC, NHMRC and more - and yet the committees reporting from them all seem to always have the same people in them) are suggesting that intellectual property has now become in itself a major component of the global economy ($600 Billion according to PMSEIC in 1993) and is another mechanism by which Higher Education could (finally) contribute something of use to the economy

- intellectual property was thus slowly becoming a way of describing knowledge so that it seemed valuable - because university research otherwise had a pretty poor reputation (see 1989 review of Research policy - called the HERP report)

- this poor reputation of university research (as well as not very good salaries and outdated equipment) had the unsurprising effect of discouraging people from pursuing research careers. This needed to be reversed in a world where innovation was becoming the key to economic success, obviously, so schemes to enhance the status of science (especially) were introduced. Intellectual property as a discourse was one way of enhancing the standing of research as a pursuit (1989 research review hints at this)

- Once knowledge is property, everyone wants a bit of it and universities scramble to try to hang on to it. The first AVCC advice on intellectual Property policies for universities (1993) reads as a how-to guide for research managers to try to ensure the university, rather than the researcher, owns the IP. By 2002 this shifts a little, as they also need to advise on how to keep the good researchers in the process. The 1993 advice suggests that Universities are not just protecting IP because the ARC says they had to (though it might've started that way).

- The ARC requirement is interesting in itself, and the first advice reads very much as though the government is trying to require universities to commercialise research, though this can be an expensive process and the ARC offers no hlp with it. What the first advice does say, however, is that if unis don't (or can't?) commercialise a potentially commercialisable piece of knowledhe, they MUST offer it to the ARC...

-And intellectual property was seen, by PMSEIC and the ARC, in the emerging accountability-doctrine, as the "return" on public "investment" in research. The fact that this return was so small was therefore troubling:

"the fact that such a miniscule part of the activities of universities involves IP protection, in contrast to the very large level of public funding of universities and university research, indicates something is fundamentally wrong". (PMSEIC 1993)

- "Protection" is what IP legally does, but the metaphors for the value of knowledge are popping up everywhere, justifying a reconfiguration of knowledge as property. For society, knowledge is a "foundation" for economic and social stability. For the economy and for industries knowledge is a "springboard". To university research managers and the lawyers and accountants who advise them, knowledge is like a "crop":

"Without this barrier innovation is like a crop in an unfenced field, free to be grazed by competitors who have made no contribution to its cultivation" (PMSEIC 1993 p.7 and p.61)

Knowledge didn't used to be like a crop and it went along just fine without being fenced (much) before. But once some knowledge was being fenced, everyone had to start claiming some, or else risk losing it all.