Friday, May 20, 2005

ACS on wrong side of PubChem dispute

The American Chemical Society (ACS) wants the government to shut
down the free database PubChem because it competes with the commercial Chemical Abstracts Service of the ACS. Although there is an issue of the government competing with a private entity
over the data, there is a separate issue that most of the data arose from federally-funded research, paid for by taxpayers rather than by private enterprise. Shouldn’t a government entity be able to
make available data obtained through public grants in the name of fostering technological advance?

The present debate reminds one of the now-distant arguments against a publicly available patent database. Recall the words of the New York Times on May 4, 1998:

An Internet pioneer who put data from the Securities and Exchange
Commission on line four years ago at no cost to computer users is now challenging the Federal Government to make the nation's patent and trademark data base freely available. He is threatening to undertake the project himself as a guerrilla effort to make the data publicly accessible if the Government fails to respond.

The challenge was in a letter sent last week to Vice President Al
Gore and Commerce Secretary William M. Daley by Carl Malamud, president of the Internet Multicasting Service, a nonprofit organization that has undertaken a variety of
Internet publishing efforts.

Mr. Malamud's crusade throws new light on a continuing dispute
between those who advocate widely distributing Government data bases that are created at taxpayer expense and the thriving private information industry that remarkets and resells the information to business customers and libraries.

Lest we forget, the USPTO opposed the idea of a database.
From the May 4, 1998 NYT -->

"The outcome with the Patent and Trademark Office was not as
successful," Mr. Malamud wrote in his letter. The agency, he said, refused to change its position.

Officials at the Patent and Trademark Office responded that the
agency was in a difficult position because it is self-financed and that making raw patent data available for wholesale public downloading would jeopardize the agency's existence.

Bruce Lehman, the Commissioner of the Patent and Trademark Office, said in a telephone interview that he did not have a philosophical quarrel with the idea
of making patent information more publicly available. He said his
agency had begun making some of its information available on its Web site. For example, it is now possible to retrieve the first page of any patent filed in the last 20 years and then request a paper copy of the entire patent document. [Weren't we lucky in 1998?]

*** Of the old IBM system-->

The issue, according to Mr. Malamud, is that Federal agencies have
been dragging their heels in an area that is vital to commerce and
technology innovation. He said that although I.B.M. has put patent data on line, its system is cumbersome and not widely used by competitors who fear that their searches might tip off I.B.M. to their current research.

"If you were an engineer at Sun Microsystems, you'd be crazy to do searches on the I.B.M. patent data base," he said.


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