Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The "big sleeping dog" in patent reform arguments

An "editorial observer" piece in the New York Times by Brent Staples titled
Cutting and Pasting: A Senior Thesis by (Insert Name)
was a thinking man's version
of facts put out in an earlier NYT article [IPBiz coverage:

University of Central Florida tackles student cheating

The important message was in the text:

But as David Pritchard, a physics professor at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, told me recently:
“The big sleeping dog here is not the moral issue.
The problem is that kids don’t learn if they don’t do the work.”

In the "high profile" plagiarism cases of recent years, such as those involving
Laurence Tribe, Glenn Poshard, and Joe Biden, there is no consensus that what
these people did was "morally wrong." These three have plenty of

The underlying problem is that when work copied from the past is passed off
as new, nobody really has advanced.

This relates to issues in patent reform. Some of the "open source" people
take pride in NOT reading patents. This approach engenders
a rediscovering of the wheel syndrome. Society does not benefit if a bunch
of researchers pass off as new that which has already been done.

The very word "patent" (as distinct from "latent") means open and not hidden.
The point of the patent system is to make information available. Society doesn't
learn if people don't read what is available to them.

[In passing, the above-noted plagiarism cases reflect different issues. Tribe,
the well-known Harvard professor copied from a lesser-known professor, and no one
said anything for years. Poshard copied a literature overview from a book
into his Ph.D. thesis at SIU, even though the literature overview was for a period
prior to his thesis, and no one on his thesis committee noticed. Poshard went on
to become president of SIU. Biden copied
five pages from a law review into a paper for a first year course at Syracuse Law School,
and a fellow student did notice. Biden was given an F and had to repeat the course.
Biden went on to become Vice-President of the United
States. It is correct that none of the individuals
"learned" anything by copying, but it is separately true, at least for the Tribe
and Poshard cases, that people who should have recognized the problem
were asleep at the switch. None of the individuals were materially harmed by
the copying, and each became famous.]


Post a Comment

<< Home