Protecting University IP and Research…

Michael D. Moberly    April 15, 2009     (Part One of Three Part Post)

“Without an appreciation of the larger shifts that are restructuring our society, we act on assumptions that are out of date. Out of touch with the present, we are doomed to fail in the unfolding future.” – James Naisbitt, Megatrends

This post is not about keeping innovation and science out of the public domain! Rather, it’s about protecting and preserving intellectual property rights and keeping dual-use technologies out of the hands of adversaries. Predatorial data mining technologies, legacy free players and winner-take-all intelligence operations makes university-based ideas and innovation (R&D) vulnerable to compromise, theft and infringement at their earliest stage of development.

Open scientific communication and university research are deeply rooted in the hard fought and time honored principles of academic freedom which still spark emotional and polarizing debates anytime controls or impediments to either are proposed or implied.

This post does not examine open scientific communication in a conventional ‘academic freedom’ context. Rather, it considers the prudence of strictly adhering to those (academic freedom) traditions and principles without any regard for (factoring) the ever growing complexities and intertwined interests, not too mention, the vulnerabilities associated with a nanosecond, globally connected R&D environment in which attribution and intellectual property rights are being routinely outpaced, circumvented, and eroded.

National debates about applying controls to university scientific communication emerged initially (in modern times) in 1945 and again, in the early 1980’s. In each instance, the National Academies played a key role. But, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the debate emerged again with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) serving as a moderator – facilitator to those serious discussions and debates.

Over the years, in each instance in which scientific controls vs. scientific openness were being debated nationally, the government, under the name of national security, sought (desired) to impose restrictions (controls) on the communication and dissemination of scientific research originating (developed) in U.S. universities. Consistently, the government’s chief concern has been, and continues to be for the most part, that because of their ready (largely open source) access to technical material and innovation evolving from pre-patented and/or pre-classified university research, certain foreign nations (and, foreign nationals) are gaining economic and military/defense advantages that can impair – undermine U.S. national security and further diminish the U.S.’s ability to compete commercially, not too mention, a university’s standing, reputation, image, and goodwill.

The traditional two-sided debate about university research, i.e., controls vs. no controls, has taken on additional and more complex dimensions…As increasingly sophisticated IT systems and their PDA (personal data assistant) counterparts permit unfettered, instantaneous, at will, global communication and collaboration, one outgrowth is that the traditional two-sided debate about university research, i.e., controls vs. no controls, has taken on additional and more complex dimensions, for example…

– Decisions about when, where, and the circumstances in which the product of research (private, government grants, etc.) are disseminated have become blurred and increasingly risky. This is especially relevant if the originator of that research has a personal or professional interest in sustaining control, attribution, use, and ownership (IP rights) to his or her scientific work products/research.

– Know how, intangible assets, and intellectual property has outpaced tangible (physical) assets as the dominant source of value, revenue, (future) wealth creation and instituion sustainability and routinely comprises 65+% of an organization’s (company, institution’s) market value.

– Sophisticated and predatorial open source data mining technologies aligned with global commercial (business, competitor) intelligence operations now render ideas and innovation vulnerable to compromise, value – competitive advantage dilution and/or infringement at their earliest stages of development and well before conventional forms of IP are applied or provide legal standing for recourse.

The fact that university-based research is of interest to (specifically targeted by) global (public, private, government) intelligence collection entities is not new. Unfortunately, some institutions still trivialize its impact and lean toward dismissing it as another government initiative to impede (or, apply controls to) university research and scientific communication that, according to opponents, would, in effect, keep beneficial science out of the public domain – consumption.

Those expressing opposition or skepticism about government controls on open scientific communication often use some form of the following argument to present their opinions ‘…in today’s highly advanced R&D environment, there is little need for anyone (economic adversaries or competitors) to surreptitiously or otherwise disguise their intent to access (target, collect) R&D-related data and information because it’s often readily accessible, sometimes merely for the asking or through commercial (publicly available, open source) data bases and information sources. Or, interested parties can merely wait until the results/findings are published or presented at professional association seminars, or posted on researchers’ websites…’ (Moberly, 2009)


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