15 November 2010

Why KCA need to change their name

Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia need to change their name to Knowledge Commons Australia. Here's why:

At their annual conference in Canberra this year, a speaker program made up of entirely men talked primarily on the use of patents to derive profitable income from public innovations. The strangely unabashed statement on the KCA website explains the agenda quite succinctly:
Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia is the peak body representing organisations and individuals associated with knowledge transfer from the public sector.
I reckon there is a sense of lingering doubt, the seeds of a questioning in KCA, on how they go about their mission, and with what perspective. For a start, you may notice in their conference program, several lectures with the word "open" in their title, as though its a new approach to something. Then there was a regular checking by the conference facilitators with anyone international in the audience, asking whether or not they thought the issues being discussed where unique to Australia and KCA. And best of all was Malcolm Skingle, Manager of GSK Pharmaceuticals Academic Liaison, describing the conference as being "hard nosed" in a wonderfully cockney accent!

Openness at KCA

Malcolm Skingle, representing a very large pharmaceutical company called GlaxoSmithKline, talked about its project to host research and develop patents on innovations that target tropical disease in poor economies/large population areas, and to make those patents available to approved businesses in those areas via a project known as the Patent Pool. This presentation was called Open Innovation in the Pharmaceutical Industry, and came off the back of Ashley Stevens from Boston University, talking about his statistical research uncovering that well over 15% of successfully commercialised innovation in the pharmaceutical sector comes from public research institutes. While I think more than a few of us in the audience struggled to reconcile notions of public good with profit driven pharmaceutical companies, it was none-the-less interesting to see them try.

Then there was James and I, wildly out of place, talking about open education and research, where we argued that protectionism in the intellectual property market, causes the vast majority of public education and research (that which will never be commercialised), never to see the light of day, restricted in access, for the benefit of the minority of work that may, some day, if lucky, realise some profitable return. We proposed that the inverse ought to be the norm, that open defaults will stimulate more innovation appropriate to our time, and help KCA agents to do a better, more targeted job in their attempts to commercialise something some day, somewhere. Recordings of our talk here:

And finally, furthering the topic of openness, was a talk by Vera Lipton IP Australia, (the only woman speaker due to the withdrawal of the scheduled speaker, Ian Goss), delivering a strong message on how innovation and commercial gain can both be served through open practices.

What a shame the conference, or its other speakers, did not think it necessary to record their talks.

Why KCA should change its name

It just so happens that C stands for Commons just as well as it does Commercialisation.

Its clear that the notion of commercialisation of public sector information is on its last legs. Not only is there some healthy questioning taking hold in the peak body itself, commercialisation has obviously proven itself a prohibitively expensive and drawn out process, profitable only to IP lawyers, "knowledge transfer" or "commercialisation" employees, and the lucky few. It evidently yields so few returns we must question the investment.

Alternatively, they could take a different, more lateral route, looking for a wider range of opportunities based on a wider range of economic returns. This we might call the Knowledge Commons, in the age of triple bottom line accounting. Through the Commons, both commercial interests and everyone else, has equal access and opportunity to innovate. Its the ultimate in free trade, if you'll allow me reappropriating such words.

We have watched this seed of thought grow in the software, media and Internet services sector, the arts and entertainment sector, the education sector, and now the research sector, despite the relevant industry's best efforts to prevent it thus far. Even the Federal Governments in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and several European Nations are endorsing the perspective of openness. The desire to try a Knowledge Commons economy is gaining strength.

As for the word Australasia.. its a word I attribute to 1950s Australia, in their early attempts to think more internationally, and I've only ever heard it used by anglophones - usually Australians or Americans. If the intent is to describe a collaborative effort between Australia and New Zealand, and somehow the USA - we might as well call it KC-ANZ (with an overdose of USA every time). If it is supposed to encompass Papua New Guinea and some parts of the South Pacific and South East Asia, then it might be a good idea to invite delegates from those regions, and address issues relevant to them as well, but then I'm certain they would also suggest a name change to something like Asia Pacific.

And so it seems more appropriate, and more informative of a wider scoped direction, entirely in keeping with the mission statement, to change the name to Knowledge Commons Australia (KCA), and the kiwis will just have to lump it.

Feeling more confident about the UC IP Policy

Of course, I took the opportunity to test the key features of the proposed UC IP Policy with veteran IP lawyers and policy makers at the conference, and I feel more confident we are onto a solid thing.

Regarding assigning individual ownership on IP - the primary argument from proponents of the opposite (institutional ownership) was that its too messy and unattractive to potential commercial investors, if individuals have to be negotiated with every time a contract is drawn up. On the surface, this appears a reasonable point. However, in all the places I have worked, where institutional ownership is assumed, people turn out their best work elsewhere, outside work time, avoiding or unaware of the work of a "knowledge transfer" or intellectual property agent. Additionally, people come and go from the projects, they share ideas inside and out, they bring old IP with them, they go about their work in ignorance of "due diligence" and they make approaches to the IP professionals often too-late. It could only be in situations where an institution owned and controlled all IP by everyone, all of the time, that it would be able to think they could somehow manage IP. Institutional ownership and control is just not realistic, and so the best thing to do is make use of good-will and individual motivation, and make no claim over people's ideas.

But there is a way to manage IP being generated in an organisation, and capitalise on it without taking control away from creators and inventors. Set Creative Commons Attribution as a default copyright, and provide an opt out process. Its simply the inverse of the present situation where restrictions and protections are default, and making something open has a process. If the institution worked towards building a Commons culture, then not only would it be in a better position to capitalise on the increased contributions being made to the Commons, but where the opt out is used, it triggers a relationship with the IP Support Office sooner, helping to better manage resticted IP. The Creative Commons Attribution default drives better management of IP and copyright.

And finally, to create an IP Policy that recognises Indigenous Autonomy on the matter, and respects their views and assists their processes, would be a first in Australian Universities from what I can tell. Our consultation with Ngunnawal representatives needs to progress further on this, accepting that our first attempt will over look many issues.

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