Tracing intellectual properties and a lockable patent archive

randform reader Sheila asked:

Nad wrote: “In addition I proposed to the people at arxiv to introduce a closed pre-preprint section for the arxive for timestamping works (something I am going to talk about later in more detail)”

Why did you write to the arxiv people? You should have made that public!
The recent protests against journals could have started much earlier if all people would have published their ideas earlier!

With “protests” Sheila is probably referring to the current protests against the publisher Elsevier and the increasing discussions (see e.g. the forum math2.0) about different models for scientific publishing and mathematical software.

My answer to this: I actually “made this public” in a comment on the math blog n-category cafe. The search button at the n-category cafe doesnt work to good, so I currently can’t find the comment. It must have been something like in 2009. In this n-category cafe comment I explained that it would be good to establish a “lockable section” at the archive (see below) with review function, so this kind of discussion has been prevalent for a while within the math/physics community. As a major application for such a “lockable section” I had actually the review and guidance of Ph.D. thesis’ in mind (a “pre-preprint section”), rather then, whats currently more discussed, the review of finalized articles. Apart from the n-category cafe comment I explained the concept also in this randform post. It may sometimes take a while for a discussion to grow and gain importance.

The underlying concept for these kind of software solutions and in some sense also for the discussion itself is what I would like to call “the traceability of intellectual properties”. On the Azimuth project wiki I recently tried to explain this concept a bit more. Moreover I transferred the concept also to other intellectual property issues, in particular to patents. This resulted in a proposal for a lockable patent archive.

After the click you may find a copy of the current Azimuth project wiki entry.

Short comment: In the above mentioned randform post the revocation of Germany’s former minister of defense Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s doctoral degree following accusations of plagiarism was mentioned. Despite the revocation of his degree it seems he may still be a rather good law expert (at least thats what I understood from the comments of his coworkers). In addition he seems to be an expert on some internet software related issues . I could imagine that the legal subtleties of such online legal facilities could be an interesting subject for a new Ph.D. thesis, but of course I am not his advisor :)

Tracing intellectual properties

This website is discussing the issue of intellectual property, like patents or scientific work. The double meaning of the word property is here taken literally.

Currently it is rather not recommended to submit many versions of an article to the preprint repository arxiv. The reason for this is that the preprints at the arxiv are regarded as rather final works.
It was thus proposed (see e.g. blog post on randform) that the preprint repository arxiv may set up a section where the development of innovations is timestamped and which can be thus seen as a “pre-preprint repository”. This section can be open or closed (“lockable”) depending on the corresponding author(s) decision. Similar proposals can be found at the dicussion forum for discussing the future of mathematics, publishing and software Math2.0, an overview of this issue is on the Azimuth project site Academic publishing.

Such a lockable archive may also be useful for the case of patents or other intellectual property cases.

This shall be explained a bit at the example of patents, since the case of mathematical preprints may be not so common to the general readership.

Patents are developping more and more to be rather an obstacle to innovation than that they further innovation.

One main problem of modern patents is the growing complexity of the involved tasks. For modern inventions one may often need research teams, develop different processes and various inventions may be interlinked. There are meanwhile quite some examples where products are not realized because of possibly unresolvable patent conflicts (like e.g. with the mpeg standard).

In the case of a patent the risk of getting the development costs back is on the side of the developper. If you have a relatively “simple” invention like that of pendulum clock, with rather small development costs then the risk of not getting patented is overseeable. If you however have to pay for a big research team and the development of a technology/innovation needs many years then the loss of for example a patent case may be very harmful.

Despite the fact that the risk of getting the development costs back is on the side of the developper patents are often not necessarily an incentive for the developper. In the growing market of outsourcing and know-How Trading the rights of an innovation are often required to be transferred to others than the original developpers. Depending on the terms of condition innovators may thus be “rewarded” inappropriately. Patent trolls are another problem.

The complexity of patents makes the use of simple patents especially problematic. That is there exists innovations, which development appears rather “easy”. That is in these cases a traceable development didn’t take many years and research teams. Here usually the originality of the innovation is a debated issue. An idea may appear “easy” in retrospective, but the process, which led to its birth may have been long and cumbersome. The originality of an idea can usually be assessed by the number of people who had the same idea at approximately the same time or by for example tests where a group of people is requested to develop an idea within a certain time. Unfortunately there are patents filed, where people even try to patent already existing technology. And there are patents filed, which are so trivial that one can’t really talk about “an idea”, left alone an original idea.

Alone these facts may hamper innovation. The possibility that an invention may turn out to be harmful or dangerous is another case.

But there are more arguments, like that as a holder of a patent you may be in a monopolistic situation.

Due to the possibly high costs and risks of patent development and its possibly monopolistic features the attractivity of “trivial patents” is rather big. That is if a “trivial patent” is issued then the possible gains giantly outweigh the involved risks or costs. The case of trivial patents are thus somewhat comparable to the feature of reserving possibly highly frequented words for websites in internet domain grabbing.

For the case of domain grabbing this feature may eventually be seen by some people as a “competitive sport”, although domain grabbing may have quite unpleasant consequences like for small companies and organisations.
For the case of patents -especially in the sector of medicine and renewable energies- trivial patents can however acquire a rather unethical dimension.

For that reason initiatives like the health impact fund or ohanda were founded.

The health impact fund regards the usefulness of a medical innovation, in particular of medicine as important. From the website:

The HIF would incentivize the development and delivery of new medicines by paying for performance.

ohanda is a platform at which products and product designs can be registered, which are intended for free use. Ohanda tries to find a kind of analog of the creative commons licence for the sector of hardware.

Both approaches mitigate the current problems of patents.

A “lockable patent archive”, together with eventually revised patent laws may be another possible approach to mitigate the problems of patents.

A lockable patent archive

A “lockable patent archive” shall be an archive where companies, organisations or individuals may register for archiving the development of a technology. A “finished product” may then evenually be filed as patent. Archiving the process of development, allows to better assess issues of fraud, plagiarism and trivial patents. It allows to introduce new patent policies, like a cap for patent licences, multiple licenses etc.

It allows to assess the issue of possibly dangerous developments (like viruses) and what to do about them.

Currently the development of a technology can be accompagnied with the help of solicitors. It seems there are/were already commercial facilities which offer an online check-in of IP related files, with claims that this process is related to a notary process (as an example: the german company priormart offers an online check-in of files, however this seems to be no direct notary service, it’s rather costly, there seems to be no legal certificate (?) and as a matter of fact the online submission didnt work, when tried out by author Nadja Kutz). In principle the traceability of an IP issue may be a useful possibility for all sorts of conflicts within innovations and IP issues. However solicitors or the above mentioned online facilities are documenting snap shots of a development and they are usually not sorting according to the type of innovation. A standardized environment could eventually ease the sorting of information, the integration of other (possibly patented) technology and the implementation of new patent policies.

One Response to “Tracing intellectual properties and a lockable patent archive”

  1. Imelda Wolters Says:

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