Protecting University IP and Research…

Michael D. Moberly    April 16, 2009    (Part 2 of 3 Part Post)

Open scientific communication and university research has traditionally been a two-sided debate.  On one side stood those who argued that open scientific communication has resulted in a net flow of scientific and technical information to other countries including economic adversaries, and competitors.  Those favoring less openness by imposing controls and/or limitations sought stronger national security policies to safeguard that scientific knowledge, innovation, and subsequent discoveries.

On the other side of the debate stood those who expressed concern that imposing (any) controls and/or excessive constraints on the open, unfettered flow of scientific information within and between university research communities, in the name of national security would (a.) adversely affect the overall operational environment of institutions, (b.) contribute to reducing incentives for innovation that bring R&D findings to new markets, and (c.) make it harder to repeat or confirm research findings (outcomes, results).

Proponents of openness also argue that science is best served (advanced) through openness (transparency) and broad critique which to expose weaknesses, flaws, identify necessary improvements, or even total rejection.  This can only occur, proponents of openness suggest, by upholding the principles of academic freedom which, of course, favor unfettered sharing – dissemination of research methodologies and findings.

In 1982, former Deputy Director of the CIA, Admiral Bobby Inman aptly characterized the situation in the following manner, which still has relevance today; ‘there is an overlap between technological information and national security which inevitably produces tension.  This tension results from scientist’s desire for unconstrained research and publication on the one hand, and the federal government’s need to protect certain information from potential adversaries who might use that information against the U.S.  Both are powerful forces.  Thus, it would be a surprise that finding a workable and just balance between them is quite difficult”.

Quite correctly, university’s have a societal role to encourage the creation and dissemination of knowledge and research.  Progress in science is generally premised on the free, open exchange, and widest possible sharing.  Achieving a consensual (practical, viable) balance between sustaining ‘openness’ and imposing ‘controls’ on research products’/findings is a worthy objective, especially today as (a.) the life-functional (value) cycles of knowledge-based assets is increasingly abbreviated, and (b.) the traditions of open scientific exchange are being challenged by (1.) advancements in technology, (2.) a truly inter-connected global economy, and (3.) legacy free players with differing perspectives and respect for intellectual property rights and how to gain economic – competitive (and military/defense) advantages and market dominance.

Are the traditional arguments still relevant and what’s needed to advance the two-sided debate?  This post is not intended to merely rehash the time-honored and polarizing positions, nor does this post intend to portray this important issue narrowly as if there are only two sides, nor does this post wish to pit those favoring controls on scientific communication against those seeking to retain complete and unfettered openness.  At minimum, the traditional for – against debate has become blurred, increasingly complex, and perhaps obsolete!

Continuing to frame university research and open scientific communication in narrow, two-sided contexts:

1. does little to advance the discussion beyond its 16th century origins when academics sought independence from church doctrine in terms of their study and research.

2. neglects to consider the adverse impact-effect of the proliferation of ultra-sophisticated, aggressive, and globally predatorial state-corporate sponsored economic and competitor intelligence operations.

3. overlooks the fact that most government sponsored intelligence agencies have included acquisition of economic – business intelligence and public/private/government research as integral elements of their tasking.

4. does not recognize the economic fact – business reality that 65+% of organization – institution value, potential sources of revenue, and future wealth creation (sustainability) today lie in – are directly related to intangible assets and intellectual property.


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