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- this poor reputation of university research (as well as not very good salaries and outdated equipment) had the unsurprising effect of discouraging people from pursuing research careers.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.

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