Intellectual Property Is a University’s Best Friend « The Scholarly Kitchen
"The New York Times is reporting that Carnegie Mellon has been awarded $1.2 billion in a patent infringement suit. The infringer is Marvell Technology Group, a publicly-traded company. This is good news for Carnegie Mellon, as its public statement indicates. Now that we have a big win for intellectual property (IP) in the form of patents, should we not turn our attention to copyrights? I have long been disturbed by what it is to me an imprudent rush toward open access (OA) by major research institutions. My objections to OA are not what we typically hear (i.e., it will undermine peer review, it is indiscriminate, it lacks a solid financial model), but that it simply is not in the interests of major research institutions to support the liberalization of IP policies when they are themselves the biggest creators of such IP in the world. Nor do I view OA from the point of view of the established publishers, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, who worry, with good reason, about collapsing business models. (I dread to see some of the comments I will get on this post.) My concern is simply that the biggest challenge facing research universities today is not access, but how to finance their operations. Universities are, of course, highly resourceful institutions. It is impressive to see how they have succeeded in obtaining the funding for the work they do — that combination of research grants, corporate sponsorships, alumni giving, and even the establishment of commercial enterprises. Well, maybe it’s not all impressive. I am thinking, for example, of the huge debt loads that students carry, a situation that is calling out for our own Dickens to describe it. A visitor to a majestic campus may not make the connection between beautiful facilities and student debt, but it’s there. Perhaps there are things in the academy that should not be funded, if condemning a young person to years of paying off loans is the price. While students are piling up debt, universities are giving away their IP. If the creation of IP were somehow democratic, with equal parts coming from all corners of our society, the case for this would be stronger. But the fact is that a small number of institutions produce the bulk of research, and most other institutions, not to mention corporations and some governmental agencies, both domestically and abroad, are free riders. Indeed, the traditional model of publishing, where users or their proxies pay for access, distributes the burden of funding more widely than the Gold OA model that is now becoming mainstream. Gold OA is, economically speaking, author-pays, and most of the authors come from a small number of institutions. Research, in other words, is top heavy. And the top seems to recognize this in all respects except when it comes to copyright. Far more prudent for the large research institutions to adapt a new model for IP, one that enables them to monetize their development of IP and to use that money to fund their operations — and, one hopes, to reduce the cost of undergraduate tuition or even to elminate it. Now that would be a truly democratizing development... "