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University Research vs Patents; Commons vs Anti-Commons

:: The following commentary from Bob Buntrock appeared on CHMINF-L on 9 Sept 2004. Many participants in the discussion group have since responded to the posting..

I've commented previously on either or both of these lists on the topic of the "Greening of Academia", viz. the trend towards more extensive patenting and licensing of academic research. My original concerns were more along the line of acquisition -- and costs -- of information in support of the P&L process as opposed to similar activities in support of teaching and research. However, the scope of the discussion is being broadened to challenges to the Research University P&L in general.

A recent Policy Forum paper in Science (Y. Benkler, "Commons-Based Strategies and the Problems of Patents", vol. 305, 1110-1111, Aug. 20, 2004) compares the patent system in general and Commons-based systems. Quotes include "...economic theory is ambivalent about the effects of patents on welfare and innovation. Empirical evidence suggests that patents are important in few industries, mostly pharmaceutical." This trend in criticism parallels that arising in conjunction with the availability of pharmaceuticals, not only in 3rd world countries, but to at least some customers in the US.

I think that discussions of these topics are overdue in a number of forums (fora?) including meetings of ACS, PIUG (Patent Information User Group), etc. Topics to be considered include costs and support of P&L in academia (esp. information access), Commons vs. both copyright/publishing and patents (validity of P&L in academia), and other topics. Within ACS, cooperation of CINF, Div. of Chem and the Law (CHAL), and ACS operating Divisions would seem appropriate.

-- Bob Buntrock
Buntrock Associates, Inc.

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