Category Archives: intellectual property

Bayer MaterialScience divests itself of carbon nanotube and graphene patents

Last year’s announcement from Bayer MaterialScience about withdrawing from the carbon nanotube market (featured in my May 9, 2013 posting) has now been followed with news of the company’s sale of its intellectual property (patents) associated with carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and graphene. From a March 31, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

After concluding its research work on carbon nanotubes (CNT) and graphenes, Bayer MaterialScience is divesting itself of fundamental intellectual property in this field. The company FutureCarbon GmbH, based in Bayreuth, Germany, will acquire, as leading provider of carbon-based composites, the bulk of the corresponding patents from the past ten years. The two parties have now signed an agreement to this effect. The financial details of the transfer will not be disclosed.

The March 31, 2014 Bayer news release, which originated the news item, describes the winning bidder,

FutureCarbon GmbH is a leading innovator and provider of novel, carbon-based composites. As a specialist in the manufacture and in particular the refinement of various carbon materials, FutureCarbon enables a broad range of strategic industries, to easily utilize the extraordinary properties of carbon materials in their products.

“We enjoy a long-standing development partnership with Bayer. We are happy that we were able to acquire the Bayer patents for further market realization of the technology. They expand our applications base substantially and open up new possibilities and business segments for us,” said Dr. Walter Schütz, managing director of the Bayreuth company.

After Bayer MaterialScience announced the conclusion of its CNT projects in May 2013, various companies indicated their interest in making concrete use of intellectual property developed before the decision was made for FutureCarbon as ideal partner for taking over the accomplished knowledge.

About FutureCarbon GmbH
FutureCarbon specializes in the development and manufacture of carbon nanomaterials and their refinement to create what are called carbon supercomposites, primary products for further industrial processing. Carbon supercomposites are combinations of materials that unfold the special characteristics of carbon nano-materials in the macroscopic world of real applications. All of our materials are manufactured on an industrial scale.

You can find out more about FutureCarbon here.

Patents, Progress, and Commercialized Medicine livestream March 20, 2014 at 3:30 pm PST

Canada’s Situating Science; Science in Human Contexts research cluster is livestreaming another of their lectures in the Lives of Evidence series on Thursday, March 20, 2014, from the March 18, 2014 announcement,

Patents, Progress, and Commercialized Medicine
James Robert Brown, Professor of Philosophy at University of Toronto
Thursday, March 20 2014, 7:30 PM [AST or 3:30 pm PST]
Alumni Hall, New Academic Building, University of King’s College, 6350 Coburg Rd., Halifax, NS
Part 4 of The Lives of Evidence national lecture series.
Free.

Here’s a link to,

Watch live!

For anyone who likes to check these things out beforehand, here’s a description of the lecture (from the Patents, Progress and Commercialized Medicine event page),

Recent headline-making studies indicate that there is a crisis in medical research. Health issues are increasingly dominated by commercial interests, and this jeopardizes research, evidence and, ultimately, peoples’ health. Patentable solutions, typically drugs, are proposed for health problems while other approaches are ignored. This raises pressing questions: How can we ensure high-quality medicine in light of corporate research funding and massive financial conflicts of interest? How does this effect medicine, ethics, public policy, and politics? Is socialized medical research a viable solution?

Anyone familiar with this blog knows I’ve written many times about patent thickets, patent trolls, and other ways in which patents have been used to block new work and new products. I have written more rarely (i.e., once) about the lack of interest in pursuing nonpatentable solutions to diseases and that was an April 12, 2013 posting about artemisin and malaria.

For anyone interested in the series, Lives of Evidence, here’s more from the series page,

The Lives of Evidence National Lecture Series

Many questions are raised in light of the recent warnings about the “the death of evidence” and “War on Science”. What do we mean by “evidence”? How is evidence interpreted, represented and communicated? How do we create trust in research? What’s the relationship between research, funding and policy? Between evidence, explanations and expertise?

These are but some of the questions explored in the Situating Science national lecture series The Lives of Evidence. The national Situating Science project (www.SituSci.ca) and supporters are launching a multi-part national lecture series examining the cultural, ethical, political, and scientific role of evidence in our world, all of which impact citizens.

“Recent concerns about transparency, conflicts between experts, political interference in the scientific process, and dire warnings about the ‘death of evidence’,” says Situating Science Director Gordon McOuat, “have made it all the more crucial that we examine the origins, meaning and trust in our concepts of ‘evidence’. This lecture series will bring multiple perspectives – historical, philosophical, ethical, scientific – to explore our understanding of evidence and why so much is hinged on ‘getting it right’.”

The page provides a complete list of past and future events.

Law firm, McDermott Will & Emery presents 2013 nanotechnology patent review

A report titled, ‘2013 Nanotechnology Patent Literature Review: Graphitic Carbon-Based Nanotechnology and Energy Applications Are on the Rise‘ published by the law firm, McDermott Will & Emery, was first profiled in a Feb. 13, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

In past years, the McDermott Will & Emery Nanotechnology Group has investigated trends in nanotechnology patent literature as a means of identifying research trends, pinpointing industry leaders and clarifying the importance of the United States in this technology revolution. McDermott Will & Emery offer their Special Report “2013 Nanotechnology Patent Literature Review: Graphitic Carbon-Based Nanotechnology and Energy Applications Are on the Rise” as a continuing study of trends observed in our 2013 and 2012 reports, and also present a renewed focus on trends in the energy sector.

… the McDermott team performed a more detailed analysis of the innovation trends in graphitic carbon-based nanotechnology innovations. Graphitic carbon-based nanoparticles (fullerenes, carbon nanotubes and graphene) have unique structures that give rise to interesting electrical, spectral, thermal and mechanical properties that can be exploited in applications across many technology sectors. While some of the same trends were seen when comparing graphitic carbon-based nanotechnology innovation to nanotechnology innovation in general, some surprising observations were made with respect to graphitic carbon-based nanotechnology innovation including the following:

  • While 50 percent of the graphitic carbon-based nanotechnology patent literature published in 2013 was assigned to U.S.-based entities, Eastern Asia’s market share is about 37 percent, which is 9 percent more than for nanotechnology patent literature in general.
  • While the United States has at least one of the top three assignees in each of the six technology sectors analyzed, Eastern Asia-based companies are more prevalent players in graphitic carbon-based nanoparticles as compared to nanotechnology innovation in general.
  • The Energy sector is also the fastest-growing sector for graphitic carbon-based nanotechnology innovation, with an 18 percent increase in 2013.

A Feb. 27, 2014 posting by Iona Kaiser, Carey Jordan & Valerie Moore (of the McDermott Will & Emery law firm) for the IP Watchdog blog provides more details about the law firm’s report published earlier this month (Feb. 2014),

… According to a recent GAO report [Nanomanufacturing: Emergence and Implications for U.S. Competitiveness, the Environment, and Human Health (?) published in January 2014 and mentioned in my Feb. 10, 2014 posting], many experts in industry, government, and academia anticipate that nanotech innovations could match or exceed the economic and societal impacts of the digital revolution.  The nanomedicine market, which has been estimated at about 20 percent to about 40 percent of the overall nanotechnology market, was valued at 78.54 billion USD in 2012 and is expected to grow to 117.60 billion USD by 2019, according to a new market report published by Transparency Market Research “Nanomedicine Market (Neurology, Cardiovascular, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-infective, and Oncology Applications)–Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast, 2013 – 2019.”

… Overall, the total volume of published nanotechnology patent literature increased 5 percent in 2013 and has more than tripled since 2003.  The number of U.S. patents issued in nanotechnology was more than 6,000 in 2013, a 17 percent increase over 2012.  Given the novelty and nonobviousness requirements of patenting, a 17 percent increase in issued U.S. patents indicates that nanotech innovation is growing rapidly.

As a measure of regional innovation and potential economic impact, the location of the assignees of nanotechnology patent literature was analyzed by region and country.  The assignee location may be a metric useful in forecasting where commercialization and economic impact will be greatest.  In a regional analysis, three epicenters for nanotechnology innovation emerge– North America, Eastern Asia, and Europe each with about 57 percent, 28 percent, and 20 percent, respectively, of the patent literature being assigned to entities residing therein. For individual countries, the U.S. maintains its dominance observed in previous years with about 54 percent of the nanotechnology patent literature published in 2013 being assigned to U.S.-based entities, followed by South Korea at 8.3 percent, Japan at 8.0 percent, and Germany at 5.8 percent.

Time will tell as to whether or not this portends a new patent thicket such as the one surrounding smartphones where the situation was sufficiently concerning that the UN held a telecommunications patent summit in 2012 (mentioned in my Oct. 10, 2012 posting). I also wrote a general piece mentioning patent trolls and other IP issues in a June 28, 2012 posting titled: ‘Billions lost to patent trolls; US White House asks for comments on intellectual property (IP) enforcement; and more on IP’.

‘Valley of Death’, ‘Manufacturing Middle’, and other concerns in new government report about the future of nanomanufacturing in the US

A Feb, 8, 2 014 news item on Nanowerk features a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) publication announcement (Note:  A link has been removed),

In a new report on nanotechnology manufacturing (or nanomanufacturing) released yesterday (“Nanomanufacturing: Emergence and Implications for U.S. Competitiveness, the Environment, and Human Health”; pdf), the U.S. Government Accountability Office finds flaws in America’s approach to many things nano.

At a July 2013 forum, participants from industry, government, and academia discussed the future of nanomanufacturing; investments in nanotechnology R&D and challenges to U.S. competitiveness; ways to enhance U.S. competitiveness; and EHS concerns.

A summary and a PDF version of the report, published Jan. 31, 2014, can be found here on the GAO’s GAO-14-181SP (report’s document number) webpage.  From the summary,

The forum’s participants described nanomanufacturing as a future megatrend that will potentially match or surpass the digital revolution’s effect on society and the economy. They anticipated further scientific breakthroughs that will fuel new engineering developments; continued movement into the manufacturing sector; and more intense international competition.

Although limited data on international investments made comparisons difficult, participants viewed the U.S. as likely leading in nanotechnology research and development (R&D) today. At the same time, they identified several challenges to U.S. competitiveness in nanomanufacturing, such as inadequate U.S. participation and leadership in international standard setting; the lack of a national vision for a U.S. nanomanufacturing capability; some competitor nations’ aggressive actions and potential investments; and funding or investment gaps in the United States (illustrated in the figure, below), which may hamper U.S. innovators’ attempts to transition nanotechnology from R&D to full-scale manufacturing.

[downloaded from http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-181SP]

[downloaded from http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-181SP]

I read through (skimmed) this 125pp (PDF version;  119 pp. print version) report and allthough it’s not obvious in the portion I’ve excerpted from the summary or in the following sections, the participants did seem to feel that the US national nanotechnology effort was in relatively good shape overall but with some shortcomings that may become significant in the near future.

First, government investment illustrates the importance the US has placed on its nanotechnology efforts (excerpted from p. 11 PDF; p. 5 print),

Focusing on U.S. public investment since 2001, the overall growth in the funding of nanotechnology has been substantial, as indicated by the funding of the federal interagency National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), with a cumulative investment of about $18 billion for fiscal years 2001 through 20133. Adding the request for fiscal year 2014 brings the total to almost $20 billion. However, the amounts budgeted in recent years have not shown an increasing trend.

Next, the participants in the July 2013 forum focused on four innovations in four different industry sectors as a means of describing the overall situation (excerpted from p. 16 PDF; p. 10 print):

Semiconductors (Electronics and semiconductors)

Battery-powered vehicles (Energy and power)

Nano-based concrete (Materials and chemical industries)

Nanotherapeutics (Pharmaceuticals, biomedical, and biotechnology)

There was some talk about nanotechnology as a potentially disruptive technology,

Nanomanufacturing could eventually bring disruptive innovation and the creation of new jobs—at least for the nations that are able to compete globally. According to the model suggested by Christensen (2012a; 2012b), which was cited by a forum participant, the widespread disruption of existing industries (and their supply chains) can occur together with the generation of broader markets, which can lead to net job creation, primarily for nations that bring the disruptive technology to market. The Ford automobile plant (with its dramatic changes in the efficient assembly of vehicles) again provides an historical example: mass – produced automobiles made cheaply enough—through economies of scale—were sold to vast numbers of consumers, replacing horse and buggy transportation and creating jobs to (1) manufacture large numbers of cars and develop the supply chain; (2) retail new cars; and (3) service them. The introduction of minicomputers and then personal computers in the 1980s and 1990s provides another historical example; the smaller computers disrupted the dominant mainframe computing industry (Christensen et al. 2000). Personal computers were provided to millions of homes, and an analyst in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Freeman 1996) documented the creation of jobs in related areas such as selling home computers and software. According to Christensen (2012b), “[A]lmost all net growth in jobs in America has been created by companies that were empowering—companies that made complicated things affordable and accessible so that more people could own them and use them.”14 As a counterpoint, a recent report analyzing manufacturing today (Manyika et al. 2012, 4) claims that manufacturing “cannot be expected to create mass employment in advanced economies on the scale that it did decades ago.”

Interestingly, there is no mention in any part of the report of the darker sides of a disruptive technology. After all, there were people who were very, very upset over the advent of computers. For example, a student (I was teaching a course on marketing communication) once informed me that she and her colleagues used to regularly clear bullets from the computerized equipment they were sending up to the camps (memory fails as to whether these were mining or logging camps) in northern British Columbia in the early days of the industry’s computerization.

Getting back to the report, I wasn’t expecting to see that one of the perceived problems is the US failure to participate in setting standards (excerpted from p. 23 PDF; p. 17 print),

Lack of sufficient U.S. participation in setting standards for nanotechnology or nanomanufacturing. Some participants discussed a possible need for a stronger role for the United States in setting commercial standards for nanomanufactured goods (including defining basic terminology in order to sell products in global markets).17

The participants discussed the ‘Valley of Death’ and the ‘Missing Middle’ (excerpted from pp. 31-2 PDF; pp. 25-6 print)

Forum participants said that middle-stage funding, investment, and support gaps occur for not only technology innovation but also manufacturing innovation. They described the Valley of Death (that is, the potential lack of funding or investment that may characterize the middle stages in the development of a technology or new product) and the Missing Middle (that is, a similar lack of adequate support for the middle stages of developing a manufacturing process or approach), as explained below.

The Valley of Death refers to a gap in funding or investment that can occur after research on a new technology and its initial development—for example, when the technology moves beyond tests in a controlled laboratory setting.22 In the medical area, participants said the problem of inadequate funding /investment may be exacerbated by requirements for clinical trials. To illustrate, one participant said that $10 million to $20 million is needed to bring a new medical treatment into clinical trials, but “support from [a major pharmaceutical company] typically is not forthcoming until Phase II clinical trials,” resulting in a  Valley of Death for  some U.S. medical innovations. Another participant mentioned an instance where a costly trial was required for an apparently low risk medical device—and this participant tied high costs of this type to potential difficulties that medical innovators might have obtaining venture capital. A funding /investment gap at this stage can prevent further development of a technology.

The term  Missing Middle has been used to refer to the lack of funding/investment that can occur with respect to manufacturing innovation—that is, maturing manufacturing capabilities and processes to produce technologies at scale, as illustrated in figure 8.23 Here, another important lack of support may be the absence of what one participant called an “industrial commons”  to sustain innovation within a  manufacturing sector.24 Logically, successful transitioning across the  middle stages of manufacturing development is a prerequisite to  achieving successful new approaches to manufacturing at scale.

There was discussion of the international scene with regard to the ‘Valley of Death’ and the ‘Missing Middle’ (excerpted from pp. 41-2 PDF; pp. 35-6 print)

Participants said that the Valley of Death and Missing Middle funding and investment gaps, which are of concern in the United States, do not apply to the same extent in some other countries—for example, China and Russia—or are being addressed. One participant said that other countries in which these gaps have occurred “have zeroed in [on them] with a laser beam.” Another participant summed up his view of the situation with the statement: “Government investments in establishing technology platforms, technology transfer, and commercialization are higher in other countries than in the United States.”  He further stated that those making higher investments include China, Russia, and the European Union.

Multiple participants referred to the European Commission’s upcoming Horizon 2020 program, which will have major funding extending over 7 years. In addition to providing major funding for fundamental research, the Horizon 2020 website states that the program will help to:

“…bridge the gap between research and the market by, for example, helping innovative enterprises to develop their technological breakthroughs into viable products with real commercial potential. This market-driven approach will include creating partnerships with the private sector and Member States to bring together the resources needed.”

A key program within Horizon 2020 consists of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), which as illustrated in the “Knowledge Triangle” shown figure 11, below, emphasizes the nexus of business, research, and higher education. The 2014-2020 budget for this portion of Horizon 2020 is 2.7 billion euros (or close to $3.7 billion in U.S. dollars as of January 2014).

As is often the case with technology and science, participants mentioned intellectual property (IP) (excerpted from pp. 43-44 PDF; pp. 37-8 print),

Several participants discussed threats to IP associated with global competition.43 One participant described persistent attempts by other countries (or by certain elements in other countries) to breach information  systems at his nanomanufacturing company. Another described an IP challenge pertaining to research at U.S. universities, as follows:

•due to a culture of openness, especially among students, ideas and research are “leaking out” of universities prior to the initial researchers having patented or fully pursued them;

•there are many foreign students at U.S. universities; and

•there is a current lack of awareness about “leakage” and of university policies or training to counter it.

Additionally, one of our earlier interviewees said that one country targeted. Specific research projects at U.S. universities—and then required its own citizen-students to apply for admission to each targeted U.S. university and seek work on the targeted project.

Taken together with other factors, this situation can result in an overall failure to protect IP and undermine U.S. research competitiveness. (Although a culture of openness and the presence of foreign students are  generally considered strengths of the U.S. system, in this context such factors could represent a challenge to capturing the full value of U.S. investments.)

I would have liked to have seen a more critical response to the discussion about IP issues given the well-documented concerns regarding IP and its depressing affect on competitiveness as per my June 28, 2012 posting titled: Billions lost to patent trolls; US White House asks for comments on intellectual property (IP) enforcement; and more on IP, my  Oct. 10, 2012 posting titled: UN’s International Telecommunications Union holds patent summit in Geneva on Oct. 10, 2012, and my Oct. 31, 2011 posting titled: Patents as weapons and obstacles, amongst many, many others here.

This is a very readable report and it answered a few questions for me about the state of nanomanufacturing.

ETA Feb. 10, 2014 at 2:45 pm PDT, The Economist magazine has a Feb. 7, 2014 online article about this new report from the US.

ETA April 2, 2014: There’s an April 1, 2014 posting about this report  on the Foresight Institute blog titled, US government report highlights flaws in US nanotechnology effort.

European Patent Office (EPO) explains how to patent nano

A Jan. 28, 2014 news item on Nanowerk describes the European Patent Office’s brochure on patenting nanotechnology-derived applications (Note: A link has been removed),

The number of European applications filed for nanotechnology-related inventions has more than tripled since the mid-1990s.

The interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology poses a challenge for patent offices, legal representatives, inventors and applicants alike.

A new brochure (Nanotechnology and patents; pdf) from the European Patent Office (EPO) explains how to get started if you want to search for nanotechnology inventions in patent databases, and what to look out for if you are thinking about applying to the EPO for a nanotechnology patent yourself.

The EPO’s 16 pp. Nanotechnology and Patents brochure (PDF) can be found here.  The EPO website is here and they do have a webpage dedicated to nanotechnology,

Nanotechnology – entities with a controlled geometrical size of at least one functional component below 100 nanometres in one or more dimensions susceptible of making physical, chemical or biological effects – is considered by many to be one of the key technologies of this century, with an expected market volume of EUR 1 trillion in 2015.

Nanotechnology can occur in almost any area of science and engineering: it is just as relevant to biotechnologists and physicists as it is to electrical and mechanical engineers or materials scientists. The interdisciplinary nature of the field means that anyone interested in literature on nanotechnology, especially existing patent documents, struggles to retrieve it from the databases available.

To get to grips with this new technology, the EPO introduced the “Y01N” tags to label nanotechnology.

Y01N became B82Y

Recently all patent offices worldwide started to classify nanotechnology uniformly under the International Patent Classification (IPC) system. To make this possible, a new symbol, B82Y was introduced into the IPC on 1 January 2011, building on the Y01N system that the EPO had been using to tag nanotechnology-related patent applications.

The new B82Y symbol makes it easier to retrieve relevant patent documents in this important technical area as it is now part of both the IPC and the CPC (Cooperative Patent Classification) schemes. The EPO has moved all nanotechnology documents from the Y01N area in its databases to B82Y. The Y01N codes have been discontinued.

Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find a publication date for the brochure. Hopefully this was produced relatively recently. One final comment, you can go here to download the PDF or order a print copy (English only) from the one of the EPO’s publication pages.

Green chemistry and zinc oxide nanoparticles from Iran (plus some unhappy scoop about Elsevier and access)

It’s been a while since I’ve featured any research from Iran partly due to the fact that I find the information disappointingly scant. While the Dec. 22, 2013 news item on Nanowerk doesn’t provide quite as much detail as I’d like it does shine a light on an aspect of Iranian nanotechnology research that I haven’t previously encountered, green chemistry (Note: A link has been removed),

Researchers used a simple and eco-friendly method to produce homogenous zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles with various applications in medical industries due to their photocatalytic and antibacterial properties (“Sol–gel synthesis, characterization, and neurotoxicity effect of zinc oxide nanoparticles using gum tragacanth”).

Zinc oxide nanoparticles have numerous applications, among which mention can be made of photocatalytic issues, piezoelectric devices, synthesis of pigments, chemical sensors, drug carriers in targeted drug delivery, and the production of cosmetics such as sunscreen lotions.

The Dec. 22, 2013 Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council (INIC) news release, which originated the news item, provides a bit more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

By using natural materials found in the geography of Iran and through sol-gel technique, the researchers synthesized zinc oxide nanoparticles in various sizes. To this end, they used zinc nitrate hexahydrate and gum tragacanth obtained from the Northern parts of Khorassan Razavi Province as the zinc-providing source and the agent to control the size of particles in aqueous solution, respectively.

Among the most important characteristics of the synthesis method, mention can be made of its simplicity, the use of cost-effective materials, conservation of green chemistry principals to prevent the use of hazardous materials to human safety and environment, production of nanoparticles in homogeneous size and with high efficiency, and most important of all, the use of native materials that are only found in Iran and its introduction to the world.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Sol–gel synthesis, characterization, and neurotoxicity effect of zinc oxide nanoparticles using gum tragacanth by Majid Darroudi, Zahra Sabouri, Reza Kazemi Oskuee, Ali Khorsand Zak, Hadi Kargar, and Mohamad Hasnul Naim Abd Hamidf. Ceramics International, Volume 39, Issue 8, December 2013, Pages 9195–9199

There’s a bit more technical information in the paper’s abstract,

The use of plant extract in the synthesis of nanomaterials can be a cost effective and eco-friendly approach. In this work we report the “green” and biosynthesis of zinc oxide nanoparticles (ZnO-NPs) using gum tragacanth. Spherical ZnO-NPs were synthesized at different calcination temperatures. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) imaging showed the formation most of nanoparticles in the size range of below 50 nm. The powder X-ray diffraction (PXRD) analysis revealed wurtzite hexagonal ZnO with preferential orientation in (101) reflection plane. In vitro cytotoxicity studies on neuro2A cells showed a dose dependent toxicity with non-toxic effect of concentration below 2 µg/mL. The synthesized ZnO-NPs using gum tragacanth were found to be comparable to those obtained from conventional reduction methods using hazardous polymers or surfactants and this method can be an excellent alternative for the synthesis of ZnO-NPs using biomaterials.

I was not able to find the DOI (digital object identifier) and this paper is behind a paywall.

Elsevier and access

On a final note, Elsevier, the company that publishes Ceramics International and many other journals, is arousing some ire with what appears to be its latest policies concerning access according to a Dec. 20, 2013 posting by Mike Masnick for Techdirt Note: Links have been removed),

We just recently wrote about the terrible anti-science/anti-knowledge/anti-learning decision by publishing giant Elsevier to demand that Academia.edu take down copies of journal articles that were submitted directly by the authors, as Elsevier wished to lock all that knowledge (much of it taxpayer funded) in its ridiculously expensive journals. Mike Taylor now alerts us that Elsevier is actually going even further in its war on access to knowledge. Some might argue that Elsevier was okay in going after a “central repository” like Academia.edu, but at least it wasn’t going directly after academics who were posting pdfs of their own research on their own websites. While some more enlightened publishers explicitly allow this, many (including Elsevier) technically do not allow it, but have always looked the other way when authors post their own papers.

That’s now changed. As Taylor highlights, the University of Calgary sent a letter to its staff saying that a company “representing” Elsevier, was demanding that they take down all such articles on the University’s network.

While I do feature the topic of open access and other issues with intellectual property from time to time, you’ll find Masnick’s insights and those of his colleagues are those of people who are more intimately familiar (albeit firmly committed to open access) with the issues should you choose to read his Dec. 20, 2013 posting in its entirely.

GoldieBlox and the Beastie Boys: my final words (I hope)

One hopes that people will somehow be able to work things out when there’s a dispute although it seemed obvious at a fairly early stage with the GoldieBlox and Beastie Boys situation, as described in my Nov. 26, 2013 posting, that might not occur given the speed at which the situation escalated.

Thanks to a Dec.12, 2013 article on Slate by Kal Raustiala and Christopher Jon Sprigman, a couple of law professors, for an excellent and entertaining job of laying out some of the legal issues. Before discussing the article any further, here’s a précis of the situation: the GoldieBlox company repurposed (wrote a parody of) a Beastie Boys song to sell an engineering toy product to girls. The Beastie Boys (the remaining two) strenuously objected due to a policy of never allowing their songs to be used in advertising the GoldieBlox took a preliminary legal action and followed up by writing a public apology letter. At this point (dec. 17, 2013), the Beastie Boys have instituted their own legal action. Meanwhile, Raustiala and Sprigman point out that this seems to have bee a publicity strategy on GoldieBlox’s part.

What I had not fully appreciated, due to my ignorance of the Beastie Boys’ oeuvre, is the subversiveness of  the GoldieBlox parody (from the Raustiala & Sprigman article),,

Set to a basic drumbeat and vibraphone loop, the Beasties rap in “Girls” about their love of … girls. Sort of. As with many Beasties songs, the lyrics contain a lot of maybe serious/maybe satirical misogyny:

Girls, to do the dishes
Girls, to clean up my room
Girls, to do the laundry
Girls, and in the bathroom
Girls, that’s all I really want is girls
Two at a time I want girls
With New Wave hairdos I want girls
I ought to whip out my girls, girls, girls, girls, girls!

One of the best things about the GoldieBlox video is how it subverts the Beasties’ song to trash the very same gender stereotypes the Beasties celebrated. Here is GoldieBlox’s revision of the Beasties’ lyrics:

Girls, you think you know what we want
Girls, pink and pretty it’s girls
Just like the ‘50s it’s girls

You like to buy us pink toys
And everything else is for boys
And you can always get us dolls
And we’ll grow up like them, false

It’s time to change
We deserve to see a range
Cause all our toys look just the same
And we would like to use our brains

And we are all more than princess maids

Girls, to build a spaceship
Girls, to code a new app
To grow up knowing
That they can engineer that

Girls, that’s all we really need is girls
To bring us up to speed, it’s girls
Our opportunity is girls
Don’t underestimate girls

Clever and cute. And you might think that the Beastie Boys, who—by the way—made a career out of repurposing others’ music for their own songs through sampling, would roll with the punches. But that’s not what happened. Because the Beastie Boys never wanted their music to be used in commercials.

Raustiala & Sprigman go on to excerpt text from the 3rd (now deceased) Beastie Boys’ will, as well as, the trademark and copyright claims by the remaining band members before closing with this,

So the Beastie Boys should lose their lawsuit—although once the lawyers take over, anything can happen. Maybe the improbable will occur in court and the Beasties will win. But thanks to the media blizzard around this silly fight, GoldieBlox simply can’t lose.

Here’s more about the Slate article authors (Note: Links have been removed),

Kal Raustiala is a law professor at UCLA. He is a co-author of The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation.

Christopher Jon Sprigman is a professor at the New York University School of Law and co-director of the NYU Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy. He is a co-author of The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation.

Clearly, these lawyers are not maximalists where intellectual property is concerned, which coincides with my own bias.

One final thought, did anyone else notice that the offbeat resemblance between Goldilocks and three bears and GoldieBlox and the Beastie Boys, a musical trio?

Accessing data the Marvel (comic book) way: uberframeworks and graphs

For want of a better term I’m going to be calling the company, Marvel. It is an entertainment conglomerate based in the world of comic books and comic book heroes and the company has a data problem as David Lumb points out in his Nov. 27, 2013 article for Fast Company (Note: A link has been removed),

After 70 years of publishing, Marvel Entertainment has built up an incredible universe of heroes, villains, and super teams–a sea of data that no mere wiki can organize. At long last, Marvel has embarked on a mighty quest of its own: to create an entirely new graph database and search system to conquer continuity malaise by visualizing each character across the Marvel Universe.

Here’s how Lumb describes the problem,

The problem, like with any massive chunk of data, lies in getting the right data pieces in front of users–but for Marvel, the question becomes a semantic exercise. Just who is the character Hawkeye?

Well, he’s Clint Barton, except when he’s not; erstwhile sidekick Kate Bishop and villain Bullseye have taken the Hawkeye identity. He’s a member of the Avengers, except when he’s not; he’s also been part of the Thunderbolts and West Coast Avengers. He got his skills performing trick shots in a circus, except when he didn’t: He got them as an agent redeeming a murder conviction in the Ultimate universe and as a Black Ops SHIELD agent in the Marvel films.

According to the article, Peter Olson, Marvel’s VP of Web and Application Development, is in charge of developing the new database (Note: A link has been removed),

“We want an uberframework–the words ‘ontology’ and ‘taxonomy’ get thrown around a lot,” Olson said. “We want characters to appear as close to as possible from all their stories and iterations but, overall, we want the characters to bubble up to archetypes.”

Most databases are relational, most easily visualized as tables of rows and columns: … Marvel still has use for this kind of database that returns queries with solid, irrefutable answers, like listing all the issues they’ve sold for the above prices.

The new database, however, will run on graph theory, looking for relationships between characters, teams, and events. The graph above [image removed] displays relationships between characters, which would be extremely difficult for a relational database that might look for superheroes but leave out villains instead of showing more abstract values, like how popular/visible a character is across Marvel’s comic titles.

There is of course a business case for this new approach (Note: Links have been removed from the article excerpt),

… The Marvel graph database will find an answer based not only on book similarities but nuanced metadata, like writer or artist style. Better still, it’ll do what the venerable ComicBookDatabase cannot: confidently propose a list of essential story arcs for the new fan.
And lo, Marvel’s multimedia empire strikes again: Aside from Sony’s death grip on Spider-Man, Marvel holds the rights to all its major characters, so their recommendations aren’t limited to subscriber-only comics on its Marvel Unlimited service. Let loose the hounds of suggested merchandise! Of course, this also means those ultra-streamlined character pages will become the most seamless portals to every character’s stories that the Internet has ever seen.

This is a good article, which I recommend reading in its entirety, although I do have one suggestion for David Lumb and/or his editor,

… the company now depicts the same characters across multiple mediums … [emphasis mine]

The plural in this context (mass communications) should have been media. Mediums are a group of people who communicate with the dead, as one of my professors informed us all in an undergraduate communications course. He was a bit of hardliner on the topic,. I found out later there is a group that uses both; artists use either media or mediums (Grammarist).

Graph Databases, are covered in a Wikipedia essay, which has this to say about them (Note: Links and footnotes have been removed),

A graph database is a database that uses graph structures with nodes, edges, and properties to represent and store data. By definition,[according to whom?] a graph database is any storage system that provides index-free adjacency. This means that every element contains a direct pointer to its adjacent element and no index lookups are necessary.

The essay also offers this illustration,

[Downloaded from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graph_database]

[Downloaded from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graph_database]

Peter Olson, the VP who’s managing this new database for Marvel gave a talk at the Nov. 5 – 6, 2013 GraphConnect New York (City) meeting. His talk is described this way on the website (from the GraphConnect 2013 videos webpage),

Graphing the Marvel Universe – Peter Olson @GraphConnect NY 2013

This talk will give an overview of why graphs are such a powerful conceptual framework for modeling intellectual property and how Marvel uses them to represent the 70 years of fictional content from many different media that makes up the Marvel Universe.

The talk is approximately 40 mins. long and you can also find it here on Vimeo.

You can find more information (speakers, agenda, etc.) here about the Nov. 5 – 6, 2013 meeting in New York City and you can find out more about GraphConnect 2013 meetings in Boston, San Francisco, London (UK), and elsewhere by going here.

About GoldiBlox, the Beastie Boys, girls in science, and intellectual property

This story about GoldiBlox, was supposed to be a ‘feel good’ piece about the company, girls,  and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)—but that was last week. At this point (Nov. 26, 2013), we can add a squabble over intellectual property (copyright) to the mix.

GoldiBlox, a company that makes engineering toys for girls (previously mentioned in my Dec. 6, 2012 posting) has produced an advertisement that has been attracting a lot of interest on the internet including this Nov. 19, 2013 story by Katy Waldman for Slate (Note: Links have been removed),

This is a stupendously awesome commercial from a toy company called GoldieBlox, which has developed a set of interactive books and games to “disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.” The CEO, Debbie Sterling, studied engineering at Stanford, where she was dismayed by the lack of women in her program. (For a long look at the Gordian knot that is women’s underrepresentation in STEM fields,  … . Sterling wants to light girls’ inventive spark early, supplementing the usual diet of glittery princess products with construction toys “from a female perspective.”

We love this video because it subverts a bunch of dumb gender stereotypes—all to the strains of a repurposed Beastie Boys song. [emphasis mine] In it, a trio of smart girls could not be less impressed by the flouncing beauty queens in the commercial they’re watching. So they use a motley collection of toys and household items (including a magenta feather boa and a pink plastic tea set) to assemble a huge Rube Goldberg machine. …

Here’s the video (no longer available with Beastie Boys parody song as of Nov. 27, 2013; I have placed the latest version at the end of this posting),,

You can find GoldieBlox here.

Things have turned a little since Waldman’s rapturous story. The Beastie Boys do not want their music to be used in advertisements, of any kind. From Christina Chaey’s Nov. 25, 2013 article for Fast Company,

Beastie Boys members Mike D and Ad-Rock, who survive the late Adam “MCA” Yauch, have issued the following open letter addressed to GoldieBlox:

Like many of the millions of people who have seen your toy commercial “GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg & the Beastie Boys,” we were very impressed by the creativity and the message behind your ad. We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering.

As creative as it is, make no mistake, your video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads. When we tried to simply ask how and why our song “Girls” had been used in your ad without our permission, YOU sued US.

Chaey’s article goes on to document responses from other musicians about this incident and notes that GoldiBlox has not commented.

Techdirt’s Mike Masnic, also has a Nov. 25, 2013 article on the topic where he notes that neither party has filed suit  (at least, not yet),

Now, it is true that some in the press have mistakenly stated that the Beastie Boys sued GoldieBlox, and that’s clearly not the case. GoldieBlox filed for declaratory judgment, which is a fairly standard move after someone claims that you violated their rights. It’s not a lawsuit seeking money — just to declare that the use is fair use. While the Beastie Boys say they made no threat or demand, the lawsuit notes that their letter (which still has not been revealed in full) made a direct claim that the video was copyright infringement, and also that this was a “big problem” that has a “very significant impact.”

As Masnick goes on to mention (Note: A link has been removed),

.. in fact, that in Adam Yauch’s  [deceased band member] will, it explicitly stated that none of their music was ever to be used in advertising. And, from the Beastie Boys’ open letter, it appears that was their main concern.

But, here’s the thing: as principled as Yauch was about this, and as admirable as it may be for him and the band to not want their music appearing in advertisements that does not matter under the law. If the use is considered fair use, then it can be used. Period. There is no clause in fair use law that says “except if someone’s will says otherwise.” The very point of fair use is that you don’t need permission and you don’t need a license.

Sometimes (often) the resolution to these disagreements has more to do with whomever can best afford legal costs and less to do with points of law, even if they are in your favour. From Masnick’s article,

I’ve spoken to a bunch of copyright lawyers about this, and almost all of them agree that this is likely fair use (with some arguing that it’s a totally clear-cut case). Some have argued that because it’s an advertisement for a company that precludes any possibility of fair use, but that’s absolutely not true. Plenty of commercial efforts have been considered fair use, and, in fact, many of the folks who rely the most on fair use are large media companies who are using things in a commercial context.

It’s nice when the good guys are clearly distinguishable from the bad guys but it appears this may not entirely be the case with GoldiBlox, which apparently believes it can grant licences to link to their website, as per Mike Masnick’s Nov. 26, 2013 Techdirt posting on the topic (Note: Links have been removed),

… as noted in Jeff Roberts’ coverage of the case over at Gigaom, it appears that Goldieblox might want to take a closer look at their own terms of service, which makes some absolutely ridiculous and laughable claims about how you can’t link to their website …

… Because just as you don’t need a license to create a parody song, you don’t need a license to link to someone’s website.

I do hope things work out with regard to the parody song and as for licencing links to their website, that’s just silly.  One final note, Canadians do not have ‘fair use’ provisions under the law, we have ‘fair dealing’ and that is a little different. From the Wikipedia essay on Fair Dealing (Note: Links have been removed),

Fair dealing is a statutory exception to copyright infringement. It is a defence, with the burden of proof upon the defendant.

Should I ever learn of the outcome of this GoldiBlox/Beastie Boys conflict I will provide an update.

ETA Nov. 27, 2013: GoldiBlox has changed the soundtrack for their video as per the Nov. 27, 2013 article by Kit Eaton for Fast Company,

The company explains it has replaced the video and is ready to quash its lawsuit “as long as this means we will no longer be under threat from [the band's] legal team.”

Eaton has more quotes from the letter written by the GoldiBlox team in his article. For the curious, I have the latest version of the commercial here,

I don’t think the new music is as effective but if I remember the video properly, they’ve made some changes and I like those.

ETA Nov. 27, 2013 (2): I can’t believe I’m adding material to this posting for the second time today. Ah well. Katy Waldman over at Slate has weighed in for the second time with a Nov. 27, 2013 article discussing the Beastie Boys situation briefly while focussing primarily on whether or not the company actually does produce toys that encourage girls in their engineering and science efforts. It seems the consensus, such as it is, would be: not really. Not having played with the toys myself, I have no worthwhile opinion to offer on the topic but you might want to check Waldman’s article to see what more informed folks have to say.

Mary Elizabetth Williams in her Nov. 27, 2013 article for Salon.com seems more supportive of the Beastie Boys’ position than the Mike Masnick at Techdirt. She’s also quite critical of GoldieBlox’s open letter mentioned in today’s first ETA. I agree with many of her criticisms.

Hopefully, this will be it for this story.

Science Borealis (new Cdn. science blog aggregator) and intellectual property sessions at the 5th Canadian Science Policy Conference

Science Borealis, a Canadian science blogging aggregator, being launched at the 2013 (5th annual) Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) in Toronto, Ontario (from Nov. 20 – 22, 2013). Mike Spear will be giving a preview of sorts at today’s luncheon and later there will a panel session about science blogger where Sarah Boon (one of the founding members) will officially launch the aggregator. Here’s more from the Nov. 21, 2013 Science Boreaiis news release (full disclosure: I am a member of the founding team),

Science Blogging Discussion Marks the Launch of Science Borealis

Science Borealis plans to feature up to 150 Canadian science blogs

Calgary and Toronto, November 21, 2013 – After months in the making, a new chapter in Canadian science communication will launch tomorrow at the Canadian Science Policy Conference at Toronto’s Allstream Centre.

The community-driven Science Borealis blogging network will grow Canada’s science communication community, while raising awareness of – and support for – Canadian science.  After a group of bloggers started talking about the idea in late 2012, the not-for-profit organizations Canadian Science Publishing and Genome Alberta added their support, funding, and time, and Science Borealis is now ready to move out of the developer’s lab and into the forefront of Canadian science communication.

Join us tomorrow (Friday) from 1:30p – 3:00p at the Allstream Centre in Toronto for a special panel presentation on science blogging that is part of CSPC 2013. You’ll hear a discussion covering the challenges facing science blogging in Canada, find out the success stories, and meet some of Canada’s science bloggers. The Science Borealis members will be easily recognizable by their distinctive t-shirts and will be pleased to answer your questions.

The panel, ‘Science blogging in Canada: Making use of a valuable resource’ will be moderated by Genome Alberta’s Mike Spear and feature speakers:

  • Rees Kassen, Associate Professor and University Research Chair, University of Ottawa
  • Sarah Boon, Associate Professor of Environmental Science, University of Lethbridge
  • Kennedy Stewart, Member of Parliament (NDP), Burnaby-Douglas
  • David Kent, Research Associate, University of Cambridge, UK
  • Lisa Willemse, Director of Communications, Stem Cell Network

Visit Science Borealis on the web at http://scienceborealis.ca , follow @ScienceBorealis on Twitter, or check out the #cancomm hashtag on Twitter.

Here’s more about the CSPC 2013 science blogging session from the conference’s P22: Science blogging in Canada: Making use of a valuable resource webpage,,

This session will take you into the revealing, thought-provoking and sometimes wild world of science blogs. They’re out there, they’re more numerous than you might think and they have impact. They validate successful science and challenge weak conclusions. And, in today’s climate, in which research has been shadowed and/or kept silent, and traditional print media is in decline, science blogs have emerged as an increasingly important tool for providing valuable context and understanding of research via an open and public forum that encourages debate. Searching the online world for credible information is not without its challenges. The Internet is often a source of misinformation, and blogs still suffer under an outdated perception that they are simply a place for writers and ideas that can’t get published anywhere else. But this has changed dramatically in the past 10 years as powerhouse media entities such as National Geographic, Scientific American and Nature have drawn high-profile science bloggers to their staff ranks to report and comment on scientific discoveries. Many professional researchers have also turned to blogging as a way to bring avid followers, both within and outside of academia, to the front lines of research, addressing current outcomes, methods and challenges within their scientific communities. There are numerous talented science bloggers in Canada, representing both the science reporting and documentary approaches. The proposed panel will address how science blogs can be useful for policy making, and present some upcoming initiatives designed to make blogs more accessible to government, the broader scientific community, industry and the public. The session will look at traditional methods of communicating science to policymakers and identify the role of online resources that, as a new and younger generation joins the political ranks, is increasingly relied upon as a primary source of information. It will outline the emergence of science blogs, and present specific examples of their impact on both the advancement of science and public perception of science. The panel will provide some strategies for how blogs can be used by parliamentarians, advisors and policy makers. The final speaker will take stock of science blogging resources in Canada and present the Canadian science blog network.

Here’s a list of the speakers along with their bios. (from the 2013 CSPC panel webpage),

Rees Kassen
Co-Chair
Global Young Academy

Dr. Rees Kassen is professor and University Research Chair in Experimental Evolution at the University of Ottawa. He is also co-chair of the Global Young Academy (www.globalyoungacademy.net), an international organization of early-career researchers acting as the voice of young scientists around the world and past chair of the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE; www.pagse.org), an association of 26 professional and scientific organizations acting on behalf of over 50,000 members from academia, industry and government in Canada. Dr Kassen completed his PhD at McGill University and then went on to an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship and Elizabeth Wordsworth Research Fellowship at St Hugh’s College, Oxford. He is known internationally for his integrative approach to the study of biodiversity and pioneering work using microbes to study evolutionary and ecological processes in the laboratory. He was awarded an NSERC Steacie Fellowship in 2010 and was a World Economic Forum/IAP Young Scientist in 2010 and 2011.

Sarah Boon
Associate Professor of Environmental Science
University of Lethbridge

Sarah Boon is an Associate Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Lethbridge. She has worked in the Arctic and the western Cordillera on topics ranging from mountain pine beetle effects on snow processes, to stream temperature and salmonids. She’s also a science writer and editor, and blogs at Watershed Moments. A hydrologist by training, Sarah has written opinion pieces on both science policy and science communication. She is part of a team developing a Canadian science blog aggregator, to build Canadian science communication networks.

Kennedy Stewart
Member of Parliament (NDP)

Kennedy Stewart was elected to the riding of Burnaby-Douglas for the New Democratic Party in May 2011. He is the Official Opposition Critic for Science and Technology, and member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. Kennedy holds a Ph.D. in Government from the London School of Economics and is a tenured associate professor on leave from Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy. While at SFU, Kennedy authored numerous refereed publications and was awarded grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada and other organizations as principal investigator and was joint investigator on a $2.5 Million SSHRC Major Collaborative Research Initiative on Multilevel Governance and Public Policy in Canadian Municipalities. Before coming to SFU in 2002, Kennedy held a number of positions at Canadian and UK universities and was Director of the Public Policy and Management Master’s Program at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has served as a referee for various academic journals including British Columbia Studies, Canadian Journal of Political Science, Canadian Journal of Sociology, Canadian Political Science Review, Canadian Journal of Urban Research, Thomson/Nelson Press and has been reviewed grants for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. As an academic, Kennedy frequently provided commentary on on local, national and international issues and was a regular guest columnist for the Vancouver Sun. He served as policy advisor to the British Columbia Local Government Elections Task Force, City of Vancouver Electoral Reform Commission, British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly, British Columbia Ministry of Municipal Affairs, Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, the Great Bear Rainforest Solutions Project, City of Vancouver Mayor’s Office, City of Calgary, and the Vancouver Public Library. His latest co-authored book, Local Government in Canada, was published in 2012 by Nelson. Kennedy is married to Jeanette Ashe, a political science instructor at Douglas College completing her Ph.D. in politics at the University of London.

David Kent
Research Associate
University of Cambridge, UK

Dr. David Kent is a research associate at the University of Cambridge, UK. In 2009 he created The Black Hole website which provides analysis of issues related to the education and training of scientists in Canada. He also writes for Signals blog, a leading source of commentary on stem cells and regenerative medicine. Previously, Dr. Kent served as joint coordinator for the UBC branch of the Let’s Talk Science Partnership Program (2004-07), an award winning national science outreach program. Dr. Kent grew up in St. John’s, NL, obtained a B.Sc. in Genetics and English Literature at the University of Western Ontario and completed his Ph.D. in blood stem cell biology at the University of British Columbia. He has been awarded scholarships or fellowships from the CIHR, NSERC, the Canadian Stem Cell Network, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the Lady Tata Memorial Trust. His current laboratory research focuses on normal blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. He also sits on the executive of the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars.

Lisa Willemse
Director of Communications
Stem Cell Network

Lisa Willemse has worked within government-funded research networks for the past 13 years as a project manager and communications specialist. She is currently the Director of Communications for the Stem Cell Network, one of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence, a position she has held since 2008. In addition to more traditional forms of communications, such as the creation of two science exhibitions, Lisa was an early adopter of new media and has used social media platforms such as Twitter to establish the Stem Cell Network as a leader among its peers. In 2008, she began developing a blog dedicated to sharing findings and commentary related to stem cell research that would also serve as a training/mentorship platform for young scientists interested in acquiring science communications skills. She serves as the blog’s editor in chief and an occasional contributor. This blog, Signals, is widely regarded as one of the best in the stem cell field and enjoys a robust following by readers from across the globe.

Mike Spear
Director of Corporate Communications
Genome Alberta

Mike Spear is currently Director of Corporate Communications for Genome Alberta, a non-profit genetic research funding organization based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Prior to that much of his career was spent as a Producer, Executive Producer, and Program Manager with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. While there he received a CBC President’s award, a Farm Writer’s Award and his newsrooms and current affairs programs received several CBC Peer Awards and RTNDA Awards. He has worked in broadcast news, current affairs, music and drama and was a media trainer with the National Democratic Institute in Croatia. He has launched the conservative world of biotechnology communications into the 21st century with the creation of GenOmics, a news aggregator based on an Open Source platform Genome Alberta has supported with U.S. based partners. He and Genome Alberta are heavily involved in the Fall 2013 launch of Science Borealis, a new Canadian Science blogging network.

I would prefer a little more description, in each précis, about what the individuals will be discussing. I could do with a little less biography. For example, congratulations to Kennedy Steward for being married but I don’t find the information pertinent here. Also, I would have liked to have seen a little more information about the panel members’ blogs, although it seems only Sarah Boon and David Kent write on a blog(s).

One other session caught my attention and that was the one concerning intellectual property (patents) which was held on Nov. 21, 2013. The session was organized by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. From the P9: Courting Confusion: the Patent Act, legal decisions, and impacts on Canada’s science and innovation landscape webpage,,

“Canada’s Patent Act exists to encourage progress in science and the useful arts. It achieves this by securing inventors’ property rights in their inventions, thus establishing a market-based regime of incentives to foster innovation. Securing a patent is based on following logical, sound principles, unchanged in two centuries. The Patent Act itself establishes an order of steps that, if correctly followed, would resolve many controversial issues.

Under the act, a patentable invention must satisfy four main criteria: patent-eligible subject-matter; novelty; utility, and; non-obviousness. Novelty means new anywhere in the world. Utility is met where a person of ordinary skill, reading the specification, would understand the utility of the claimed invention. Non-obviousness requires that a persons of ordinary skill would not have been led to the claimed invention directly by the earlier teachings of others.

Recently, the scope of patent-eligible subject-matter has been controversial in pharmaceuticals, the life sciences; and in business methods, particularly involving computer software.

However, in the past few years, Canadian courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), have issued rulings which may be seen as inconsistent or confusing in areas of patent-eligibility, novelty, utility, and non-obviousness . Canada does not have a specialized patent court, and the volume of litigation is insufficient to yield a finely developed body of law. Few judges have a technical or scientific background; fewer still have a background in patents.

This session will discuss how these issues have played out in several recent high profile cases and their implications for Canada’s science and innovation landscape.

In a modern agricultural context, the patenting of higher life forms is controversial, and has been the subject of two high-profile SCC decisions: Harvard College v. Canada (Commissioner of Patents) (the “Harvard Mouse” case), and Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser (2004), which centered on patent infringement for genetically-engineered (GE) canola.

The 5-4 decision in the Schmeiser case led to concerns amongst anti-GE and some civil society and consumer groups about the ability to patent “the genes of life” and quasi-related unease about corporate concentration in the agriculture and food sectors. However, stakeholders in the agricultural biotechnology sector received the decision positively, as it affirmed the validity of their gene and cell patents and demonstrated that they could successfully seek redress for infringement.

In the Amazon.com case, the Federal Court of Appeal faced the issue of patent-eligibility of business methods, particularly those implemented by software applications. Although there had been hope that the Amazon.com case would bring clarity to the law, the outcome has been enigmatic. The patenting of business methods was also the subject of considerable debate in submissions before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology for their March 2013 report on the Intellectual Property Regime in Canada.

Recently, the courts have had difficulty with utility. Odd decisions in the pharmaceutical field are now yielding equally surprising results in other business sectors. These cases and other practice changes have altered the balance between inventors and the public, and their effects now working their way through the economy.”

The moderator and the panelists are (from the session webpage),

Albert L. Abaunza
Co-founder
Abaunza McLeod LLP – Intellectual Property Law Canada

Albert L. Abaunza graduated from Université de Montréal in 2006 with a B.Sc. in biomedical science. During his undergraduate studies, Albert worked as a research assistant in pharmacology and biochemistry, where he studied the effects of reactive oxygen species (ROS) on the catalytic activity of the hepatic cytochrome P450 and participated in a high-throughput screening project for protein-protein interactions in a yeast model by using Protein-fragment complementation assay.

While studying biomedical science, Albert became involved in the planning and orchestration of the McGill Bioethics Conference for two consecutive years as VP Administration and VP External

After graduating in 2006, Albert decided to pursue his law studies at the Université de Sherbrooke and at Queen’s University where he was admitted to the national joint program and was granted a dual law degree; a Bachelors of laws (LL.B.) and a Juris Doctor (J.D.), in 2009 and 2010, consecutively.

During his last year of law school, Albert was concurrently focused on a specialization in health technology assessment and management. After having successfully completed the international program in four different cities; Barcelona, Rome, Montréal and Toronto, Albert was granted a M.Sc. degree in health technology assessment from Université de Montréal in 2012.

In 2013, Albert joined forces with Dr. Mark C. McLeod and co-founded Abaunza McLeod LLP – Intellectual Property Law Canada, where together and with the support of other well-seasoned IP practitioners, they provide a full spectrum of intellectual property law services in English, French and Spanish.

Ken Bousfield
Partner
Bereskin and Parr

Mr. Bousfield has significant experience in the railroad industry and has also obtained protection for consumer goods, oil field equipment, and a wide variety of mechanical and electro-mechanical other devices. He is a member of the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada’s (IPIC) Information Technology Committee.

Prior to being admitted to the bar, Mr. Bousfield obtained significant industry experience working as a designer and test engineer for an electronic equipment manufacturer and for an aircraft company.

Brian Gray
Senior Partner
Norton Rose

Brian Gray’s practice at Norton Rose focuses on litigation and dispute resolution in patent, copyright, trade-mark and advertising matters. He provides strategic advice concerning intellectual property matters and advises on the intellectual property and technology aspects of transactions.
Mr. Gray has taught patent and trade-mark law at the University of Toronto and has taught copyright law at McGill University. Mr. Gray has authored numerous papers on patent, trade-mark, trade secret, copyright and technology transfer.

He is on the editorial board of World Intellectual Property Report, Federated Press Intellectual Property Quarterly and of World E-Commerce Report and has also served on the editorial board of the Trade-Mark Reporter.

From 1989 to 1999 Mr. Gray was a member of Canada’s National Biotechnology Advisory Committee, appointed by the Minister of Industry to advise on science policy. He has also served as counsel for the intervener – Canadian Banking Association and the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association – in the Amazon case.

Richard Gold
James McGill Professor
McGill University – Faculty of Law

Dr. Richard Gold is a James McGill Professor at McGill University’s Faculty of Law where he was the founding Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy. He is also an Associate Member of the Department of Human Genetics at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine. He teaches in the area of intellectual property and innovation. His research centres on the nexus between innovation systems and intellectual property,with an emphasis on the life sciences.

Professor Gold has provided advice to Health Canada, Industry Canada, the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (where he was the lead author of the OECD Guidelines on the Licensing of Genetic Inventions and a report on Collaborative Mechanisms in Life Science Intellectual Property), the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Health Organization and UNITAID.

His research has been published in high-impact journals in science, law, philosophy, international relations including Nature Biotechnology, The Lancet, PLoS Medicine, the McGill Law Journal, Public Affairs Quarterly and the European Journal for International Relations.

Giuliano Tolusso
Senior Policy Officer
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Giuliano Tolusso is a senior policy officer with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Ottawa. He has spent most of the past decade at AAFC working on biotechnology and emerging technology issues from a number of perspectives including communications and issues management, intellectual property policy and international trade policy. Prior to joining AAFC in 2001, Giuliano was a marketing and communications executive for a number of trade and professional associations in Toronto. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from Carleton University in Ottawa.

At last year’s CSPC, he organized and moderated a provocative panel discussion entitled Talking to Canadians about Biotechnology: Should we wake up the neighbourhood

Anyone who has read this blog with any frequency knows I’m not a maximalist where intellectual property is concerned. Further, I have observed that most lawyers seem interested in having more patents rather than fewer patents. After all, that’s how they make their money.

Getting back to the panel, it can’t escape anyone’s notice that it is almost entirely made up of lawyers with two exceptions being a policy officer from the agency listed as the session organizer and an academic lawyer. The whole thing seems odd as it is a discussion on points of law and would appear to be of interest to lawyers only. How would attending this session help a ‘would be’ scientist innovator/inventor/entrepreneur? Perhaps it’s meant for policy makers but if that’s the case, wouldn’t a comprehensive discussion about patents and their utility be more useful than a  discussion about specific legal decisions? (They say they will discuss more general points but first they’ll have to describe the cases pertaining to the specific decisions under discussion which will take up much of the time allotted for the session.)

Given the 2013 CSPC conference theme: ScienceNext: Incubating Innovation and Ingenuity, I would have thought that perhaps an opinion from potential investors or successful entrepreneurs might be of interest in a discussion about patents. For example, Mike Masnick writes in his Nov. 14, 2013 posting for Techdirt about research which suggests venture capitalists find the current US patent regime problematic (Canadians and others file many of their patents in the US),

… The idea that patents are what drive investments definitely does not appear to be the case.

The related bit of information is a new research study, done by Robin Feldman, looking at the view of patents from the venture capital perspective, surveying around 200 venture capitalists and their portfolio companies about their views on patents — which are decidedly negative:

Both the companies and the venture capitalists overwhelming believe that patent demands have a negative impact on the venture-backed community, with all or most of those assertions coming from entities whose core activity involves licensing or litigating patents. These impacts are described in terms of the specific costs expended by the companies and by the distraction to management, engineers, and other employees. Most important, participants described the human toll that patent demands have had on entrepreneurs. In addition, when making funding decisions, the vast majority of venture capitalists do not consider the potential for selling to assertion entities if the company fails. On the flip side, 100% of venture capitalists indicated that if a company had an existing patent demand against it, it could potentially be a major deterrent in deciding whether to invest.

In other words: having patents does not significantly impact the decision to invest, but being the target of patent trolls has significant consequences for entrepreneurs, and makes investors less willing to invest in important innovations.

In any event, I hope the science blogging panel is a huge success and for anyone who’s curious about an outside perspective on the 2013 CSPC, there’s David Bruggeman’s Nov. 19, 2013 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (where he regularly comments on science policy).