Peer to patent Summer Research Fellowship

by John Q on April 15, 2009

If you’re interested in the relationship between ideas, interests and institutions, the development of intellectual property law provides a fascinating (somewhat self-referential) case study. The intellectual debate has been running hard against strong IP [1] for a long time, and changes in technology have not only made copying and reproducing all kinds of material much cheaper and easier, but have revealed, on a scale much larger than before, the benefits that can be realised from free access to ideas.

Meanwhile the extension of IP rights, and the expansion of powers to protect them has rolled on as if none of this was happening, at national (DMCA), bilateral (as a standard condition of US-driven free trade agreements) and global (TRIPS) level.

However, there are some positive countervailing developments, one of which has a summer fellowship attached (CT isn’t a job board, but this is the kind of opportunity that might be missed through the usual channels).

As this recent decision suggests, the US courts and the Patent Office seem to be getting less receptive to the idea that application of routine methods to identify the genes associated with particular proteins creates an ownership claim over those genes.

And in Australia, proposed changes to IP laws will raise patentability standards and protect experimental uses of patented items. Admittedly, these changes mostly serve to bring Australia into line with other countries, but in the past, the ratchet effect has always gone the other way.

And, if you’re a PhD or ABD looking for some work over the summer, you can be part of this.

Peer to patent is a project that

harnesses the power of citizen-experts to assist patent examiners by searching for, identifying, and annotating prior art relevant to pending patent applications. A first Peer to Patent pilot was launched in June 2007. During the first year the project participants (peer reviewers) assisted in the prior art searches on 40 patent applications, generating 173 items of prior art. These items of prior art were the basis of rejection in over ten of the patent applications considered.

They’re offering a three-month summer Fellowship, details here.

fn1. In its crude form, the claim we all see when we hire a DVD, that reproducing or reusing someone else’s “intellectual property” is an act of theft akin to stealing a car. Less crudely stated, but still equivalent, the claim that converting copyright and patent protections from temporary rewards for notable innovators to permanent property rights over intellectual outputs of any kind (including retrospective extension of such rights to existing intellectual outputs) will stimulate innovation.



Walt 04.16.09 at 12:37 am

I read your title as suggested someone had patented the idea of a summer research fellowship. Since I think the US Patent Office would patent a ham sandwich, it only seemed slightly far-fetched.


melissa 04.16.09 at 1:15 am

Walt, I thought the title was reporting that some British nobleman had tried to patent the idea of summer fellowships. It struck me a good piece of anti-patent satire, though with surprising panache from the aristocracy.


John Quiggin 04.16.09 at 1:23 am

I actually meant to say that readers should look hard if they want to patent a season or the activity of research (thereby gaining rights over all other patents) or the concept of friendship, but I omitted the commas.


salient 04.16.09 at 2:40 am

I actually meant to say that readers should look hard if they want to patent a season or the activity of research (thereby gaining rights over all other patents) or the concept of friendship, but I omitted the commas.

Peer (to patent Summer/Research/Fellowship) deeply into the effluvia — next step: profit!

My dear colleague, how does one achieve mastery over the seasons?
Peer, to patent Summer, Research Fellowship.

What’s in the news?
Peer to patent Summer!
(baffled expression) Research?
(despondently) Fellowship.
(despondent sympathy) And fully funded, no doubt. No matter: It will be August soon enough. Your time will come.

From: Peer
To: Pa “”
Re: search
Fellowship — good news — I’ve been accepted!

Have you heard the one about the scholarly pirates on the prowl for narrow-beam lanterns?
Yeah, something about “patentry: Search fellow ship.”

Breaking story.
What’s the headline?
Pier Top Ate.
Bizarre. What’s happening?
NTS, um, errs… Arch fell!
The pier’s arch fell?! How?
Low ship.

…That’s all I’ve got. Not bad for six words.


bad Jim 04.16.09 at 8:11 am

I’m sure I’m missing the point, as usual, but it was my understanding that part of the point of patent law was to make it clear what one was allowed to copy, since a patent only allows one to deny everyone else the right to do something for a limited time. Anything not prohibited is permitted. One of the neat rules of the patent system is that the disclosure must be made in good faith, that the inventor’s teaching must be sufficient to allow anyone skilled in the art to replicate the invention.

Please distinguish copyright law, the growing reach of which continues to track the introduction of Mickey Mouse, with the more modest innovations in patent law, where, in the U.S., the term of patent coverage went from 17 years from date of issue to 20 years from date of filing. Copyrights stopped expiring from about the time that Disney became successful, but nearly all my patents are now in the public domain.


Pete 04.16.09 at 8:46 am

Patents have also expanded to less and less tangible things like software, gene expressions, business methods, etc., and there has been innovation in patent recycling – the process of making a trivial change to something already patented and then enforcing that when the original patent runs out. Then there’s “submarine” patents, where the patentor has no intention of building any implementation but waits for someone else to do that work and sues them.

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