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Growing conflict over nanotech intellectual property

An article in InformationWeek, while focused primarily on information technology, has lessons for nanotech as well (emphasis added):

“U.S. universities need to recognize they’re in a global showdown for research dollars. But sometimes they’re their own worst enemies in landing such funding. The culprit: The conflict over who gets the right to collect royalties on patents resulting from vendor-sponsored university research.

“Non-U.S. university researchers generally are more interested in the grant cash, so reaching agreements with foreign academic researchers takes at most a few weeks. HP recently took two years to reach an agreement to fund nanotechnology research at UCLA, says Wayne Johnson, VP of worldwide university relations at HP… ‘It’s a difficult topic, because there’s a belief that there’s money in this for the licensee,” Johnson says. “But the corporations typically aren’t even sure there will be intellectual property. So the end product of this is tremendous delays…’ ”

“The stumbling block isn’t always royalties. Vendor lawyers often don’t want university researchers to share the knowledge from industry-backed research in academic journals and forums. That conflicts with universities’ spread-the-knowledge mission–and academics’ publish-or-perish career paths.” [Credit: Meridian]

Folks, this is a mess and it’s only going to get worse unless action is taken. Please let me know if you’d like Foresight to take on this issue, and whether/how you can help. —Christine

8 Responses to “Growing conflict over nanotech intellectual property”

  1. Phillip Huggan Says:

    Much of what I know about diamond surface chemistry, quantum dots and Scanning Probe Microscopy comes from googling open source papers. If Foresight initiates any actions, with appropriate notice I’d be willing to come up with a comparison of the societal economic spinoffs of a tax-payer dollar invested in open source R+D versus private R+D. I’m sure the former multiplier will be far higher than will be the latter.

  2. Adrian Wilkins Says:

    Just yet another manifestation of the intellectual property debacle.

    If Western nations can’t sort this out, they’re doomed to take second place to nations with more enlightened intellectual property law. MNT manufacturing systems will rapidly shift the costs of manufacturing away from capital, manufacturing labour and raw materials and toward the design effort. The cheaper you can turn out designs, the better it is for everyone.

    The enormous overhead associated with avoiding adverse IP conflicts will loom over every project like the Sword of Damocles, dampening the enthusiasm of venture capital, and probably even cancelling projects who cannot design around IP obstacles or obtain a license for necessary components.

    I’d advocate that all such IP is published, and available for use under a free license. The original creators of the IP are still best placed to benefit from it, having a greater understanding of the manufacturing process and a longer lead time. And you can be fairly sure that their IP will be reverse engineered quickly anyway.

    Other nations will not care about the legal restrictions imposed by Western corporations and will be able to integrate technologies with unfettered synergy, which may well given them a strong lead in the field. Such a thing is surely something that Western governments would fear greatly.

  3. Stephen Murgatroyd Says:

    I have written quite a bit about this in my blog. Part of the new problem here is that the US is forcing other economies – India and China – into this same failing mode. IP protection doesnt stimulate innovation, it hinders. There are many studies showing the many scientists, fearing commercialize or perish (the new academic peril) seek such stringent IP protection that it inhibits scientific discovery. Until the US wakes up to this, the rest of the world will pass it by.

    Keep an eye on the viagra case in China, by the way, which will reveal their attitude to US intellectual property imperialism.

  4. Novak Says:

    “Intellectual property imperialism”? Are we going out an conquering intellectual property, now?

  5. Grey Eminence Says:

    IP belongs to the inventor whether first to create or invent. That’s the way it is and will always be.
    Financial compensation and protection of ones ART is only logical and right. Any country that is
    part of the WTO must respect any member’s IP. Those that advocate free licensing fall under
    the domain of petty provocateurs living off the intellectual acumen of the artist talent and are therefore
    considered parasites by society.

  6. Phillip Huggan Says:

    Grey, Ayn Randroid couldn’t have said it better herself.

    IBM patented the Scanning Tunneling Microscope. Because they specified vacuum operating conditions, the pantent hasn’t been generally enforced to date. Patents exist to serve human qualities-of-living. They are nothing more than a tool. In a world of MNT plenty, we should not deny MNTed products because of patent infringements, we should deny patents. Millions are dying in Africa because of AIDS treatments unavailable for local production due to patent infringement concerns. A troubling subset of the world’s MNT community have a scewed libertopian worldview.

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