14. Invention, intellectual property and income

License Thoughts

This week I gave some thought to how I’d like my work to be recognised once I get it all done. It’s an interesting concept, and one I’ve struggled with for a while now, without ever really stopping to think about it.

As an academic, I’m keen that my work is available for the betterment of mankind and the natural world, and I don’t need to be paid for it. It’s an extension of being a teacher, really. And now that I’ve been teaching in Germany, where higher education is seen more as a right than a priviledge, I’ve strengthened my opinion. The results of scientific research should be available to all.

As I was starting out in science, I ran a little research lab in northern British Columbia, and we wanted to publish our first paper in a Canadian journal of reasonable repute. We got through the pain of the peer review, which was a first learning experience, and then came the shock of $400 worth of page charges. That was nearly a third of my monthly salary back then. Later with research grants to cover the cost of publishing, that shock diminished, until the Open Access concept started to appear. Now we’re looking at $2500 to publish a paper in even mid-range journals.

As a researcher now at a small university with only a very small library budget, and no money really for journal subcriptions, I’m now really appreciating the value of Open Access. Paywalls have become a regular frustration. I was spoiled for most of my career, attending and then employed by world class research universities with multi million dollar library subscription budgets. Now though I find myself having to scrape the barrels of academia.edu or researchgate to beg for pre-print pdfs or half-pirated copies uploaded to people’s personal websites.

I have also been a publisher. For nearly ten years, I was Chair of the Publications Strategy Board of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology. Our scientific publishing was one of our charitable aims, but it also generated some important revenue for the Institute. Open Access Publishing threatened that business modle something fierce, and we had to make some heart-wrenching decisions about page charges in order to cover the operations costs.

Finally, I’ve been a businessman. That research lab lived from tourism, so we weren’t really worried about copyright or patents while trying to sell our product. Our product was good, and we could compete with the other players in the market. There was no need for anyone to patent anything, as we were all offering something unique, and there were enough buyers to go around. More recently, my lab has finally, after ten years, managed to get a new sensor technology nearly ready for market. It’s been an expensive adventure, and we’re on the edge. Hopefully we’ll find a niche and make a success of it. We’re naturally a bit worried about copycatting, so we’re being a little careful about the intellectual property. There’s a patent on the device and we’re moving to commercialise it in the usual way with a classic spin-out, focussing on landing the first production contracts with OEM customers who will also be our development partners.

And now I’m a maker. This is another new world. Now I’m becoming part of a community that doesn’t readily embrace patenting and copyright. The whole ethos of the community is that everything should be available to everyone to push the development of humankind forward more sustainably. My contributions here on this website and to the little robot I’m designing will be made available for free. This time, I won’t be paying to publish the results, but I won’t be defending the IP either, so somebody else may take my ideas and run with them.

Does that all bother me? I don’t think so. Now more than ever I’ve needed the Creative Commons to help me prepare slide decks and online lectures. It’s time I contributed to CC myself! Seems only fair.

I’ve looked through the license options and have settled on CC-BY-SA. I want my work to be recognised, and thank you’s are still free. Since I’m giving the fruit of my labour away for free, though, I want others to treat that decision with respect. Hence the SA.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

I’ll still work with patents and other IP protection, I’m sure, where they are useful and necessary. I look forward however to working with a community who isn’t shy about sharing and who embraces the development that is possible when standing on the shoulders of the CC giants.

Presentation and Picture Outputs

Here are links to the final video presentation and summary slide: