In this edition #33…

December 12, 2011

In our last edition of 2011, we present an outline of the 2011 CMCL conference ‘Keeping Secrets in Times of Weak Law’ with a run-down of the panels on Cybersecurity, Trade and Commercial Secrecy, and Privacy.

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Julian Thomas presents an account of Steve Jobs’ particular and extraordinarily successful mode of innovation, and reviews Walter Isaacson’s ‘Steve Jobs: The Excusive Biography’.

To see full post click here.

And then a brief note from our editors.

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Keeping Secrets in Times of Weak Law

December 12, 2011

By Tiffany Wong, Oscar O’Bryan and Jake Goldenfein

Keeping anything secret seems like a challenge in today’s radically altered media landscape. Digitisation has abolished the cost of reproduction and networked environments expose information to actors with the capacity to leak, steal or vandalise for whatever purpose motivating them. Law hardly seems to have a role in a space where technological know-how trumps not only the regulation of secrets but also the digital architectures that protect them. But does that mean that law should retreat from regulating information, or rather, is it a time for redoubled analysis of law’s relationship to information and perhaps an open mind when looking at options for reform. Rather than harsher penalties and more vigorous enforcement, do we need more transformative approaches for dealing with the reality of our age of communicative abundance?

This year’s CMCL conference, ‘Keeping Secrets in Times of Weak Law’ answers the call for a critique of law’s role in keeping secrets and the institutions that determine when secrets should remain so.

Jake Goldenfein presented on the different forms of WikiLeaks and how its latest iteration of publishing uncensored and unredacted documents without institutional (mainstream media) oversight may be the only mode of transgression that can fulfil its ideological mission. Dan Hunter, Julian Thomas and Alana Maurushat constituted the Cybersecurity Panel, discussing the relationship between states, secrets and law. The session was chaired by David Lindsey. Philip Williams, David Brennan and Susan McMaster made up the Trade and Commercial Secrecy Panel, chaired by Beth Webster, discussing the economic arguments in the trade off between incentives to produce and incentives to enjoy information. And the Privacy Panel, chaired by Jason Bosland, included Megan Richardson, Michael Rivette, Michael Gawenda and the Honourable Michael Kirby, who discussed Lenah Game Meats – 10 years on, and the possibility of a statutory cause of action for privacy in Australia.

Cybersecurity

Dan Hunter, director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School, gave the Cybersecurity keynote, asking some pertinent questions about secrecy and security in the age of the Internet. In particular, why WikiLeaks was such a lightening rod for criticism and whether ‘control’ is the correct paradigm to inform the policies behind regulating secrecy.

The debate over WikiLeaks set the context for Hunter’s presentation. In asking why WikiLeaks, especially its release of unredacted cables was so derided by the institutions related to the rule of law (journalists, lawyers etc) Hunter critiqued those institutions for being unable to see the reality of today’s communications infrastructure and practices. Instead, Hunter claimed, those institutions rely on an ethic of control that propelled the ratcheting up of copyright laws since the Internet became publicly available 20 years ago, as well as informed the news media’s derision of WikiLeaks publishing without their oversight.

Hunter suggested that WikiLeaks may be a precursor for a change in policy regarding government secrecy and disclosure and asked what modern day information policies and practices should look like given the Internet and technologies like WikiLeaks. Regarding copyright, Hunter claimed control was not what creators sought and regarding secrets, Hunter alluded to substantial evidence suggesting administrators over-protect information in ways that are profoundly undemocratic. Now that we live with the idea of radical transparency as something we cannot really do anything about, Hunter claims we have to craft a policy that gives up on our misguided concerns about control despite the new dangers that may provoke.

Respondent, Julian Thomas, director of The Swinburne Institute for Social Research, discussed the extent to which the Internet has decentralised, diffused or democratised secrecy– and where WikiLeaks fits into this new equilibrium. Thomas claimed that the Internet has made states both less and more able to control information, where networks of freedom and networks of control lay alongside each other. WikiLeaks operates in this new networked society, claims Thomas, according to the model described by William Dutton as the 5th estate emerging from the network of networks. While sharing some features of the traditional press, the 4th estate, Thomas claimed this 5th estate is more than simply a supplemental ‘new’ media but operates in a space, where institutional and amateur expression are side by side, as are networks of freedom and networks of control exist within what Manuel Castells describes as the space of flows (not a space of places) where people find knowledge outside of institutional sources.

Alana Maurashat, director of UNSWS’s Cyberlaw and Policy Centre, discussed the regulation of hacking worldwide, noting her consultancy to the Canadian government to assist in crafting a reasonable policy in the field of ethical hacking. She saw WikiLeaks’ legacy as going beyond subsequent movements like Anonymous and Occupy, but rather depicted WikiLeaks as the leader, or image, of a whole system of e-government and e-revolutions, often coordinated by groups that have been considerably empowered by today’s technological conditions.

Trade and Commercial Secrecy

Beth Webster opened the panel by contextualising the importance of trade secrecy to Australian innovators, referring to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ most recent innovation survey. This survey highlighted that 40 per cent of Australian businesses were innovation-active during the 12-month reference period and the most popular method of intellectual property (‘IP’) protection by these businesses was a secrecy or confidentiality agreement.

Keynote, Philip Williams (Chairman of Frontier Economics) offered an economist’s perspective on trade secrecy by posing the key economic problem arising from the protection of trade secrets: the trade-off between two incentives — the optimal incentives to produce information and the optimal incentives to enjoy information.  Economics has been able to articulate this problem, but has struggled to offer guidance for its resolution.

To illustrate this problem, Williams presented a simple economic model: a person spends a year of pain (‘Period 1’) to enjoy a year of gain (‘Period 2’).  The person may justify the pain by producing an asset, such as information, at the end of Period 1.  Enjoyment of that information in Period 2 constitutes the gain.  The person will only bear the pain in Period 1 if they believe that they will likely enjoy the information in Period 2.  Thus the person will likely seek legal or extra-legal protection of the information from appropriation.

Williams noted, however, that the trade secrecy context raised three complications to this model.  First, the creation of an asset does not draw a clear distinction between the two periods of activity — investment and enjoyment — since the asset will likely grow in value during Period 1.  Secondly, the asset may generate benefits for its creator through trade, whether or not the creation process has completed.  Thirdly, if the asset is information (a classic public good) difficulties arise with respect to trade.  In particular, a purchaser must know the information to determine its value — a problem also known as Arrow’s fundamental paradox of information.

Williams applied this model to the facts of Maggbury v Hafele (2001) 210 CLR 181 (‘Maggbury’), a High Court case in which the law dealt with the trade-off between the incentives to produce and enjoy an asset. Williams noted the economic inefficiency of restraining the use of information after that information had entered the public domain.  He suggested that restitutionary damages would have been a more efficient remedy by allowing Maggbury to recover the benefit of its investment and by allowing the use of publicly available information.  The key challenge in calculating the quantum, however, would be to determine the duration of Hafele’s head start, which Hafele gained by first access to the information.

 

The first commentator, David Brennan, engaged in a fuller discussion of remedies for breach of confidence. He highlighted the remedial uncertainties arising from the equitable jurisdiction of breach of confidence — remedies were at the court’s discretion, and equity provided weak guidance on the assessment of quantum.

In noting these problems with equitable remedies, Brennan argued injunctive relief would serve little purpose, given the defendant’s destruction of confidentiality; an account of profits could involve accounting problems since the significant intermingling of the defendant’s resources with the information; and equitable compensation, calculated on a counterfactual basis, might be dismissed by courts as too imprecise a measure of damages.

Brennan concluded by making suggestions for law reform.  To strengthen legal protection of confidential information and to deter the wrongful disclosure of such information, he submitted that an all-proceeds remedy would be preferable to injunctive relief where there was a breach of confidence which was: (a) in bad faith; (b) the wrongdoer benefited from the breach in an ascertainable and proximate manner; (c) the secrecy of the information has been destroyed by the breach; and (d) there was no market-based objective measure of harm.  Depending on the nature of the party’s breach and benefit, the appropriate remedy should be a constructive trust, and/or an account of profits without allowance for the wrongdoer’s contributions.

The second commentator, Susan McMaster (Senior Legal Counsel with CSIRO), provided the practical perspective of IP creators, including those who received and commercialised confidential information.  Drawing from her experience with CSIRO, McMaster acknowledged both the importance of trade secrecy in the private sector and the effectiveness of sharing knowledge to achieve impact from research results.

Secrecy, McMaster claimed, is crucial to the patent application process since patent registration hinges on the first-to-file system and the development of patentable subject matter through research and experimentation takes a long time. Further, secrecy is required for the commercialisation of public scientific research as investors are incentivised by the exclusive rights created by patent registration.

McMaster raised three key issues concerning the management of confidentiality agreements.  First, it may be unclear whether certain information is confidential.  Secondly, non-disclosure agreements must be drafted and used to enforce confidentiality, rather than to constitute a mere formality before commercial engagement.  Thirdly, a research organisation and its employees must refrain from receiving confidential information from third parties or entering into third-party confidentiality agreements if doing so would place the organisation at a commercial disadvantage.

 

Privacy

 

The final panel of the day, chaired by the CMCL’s Jason Bosland, considered the past, present and future of privacy protection under Australian law. The four speakers brought a wealth of academic, professional, industry and personal experience to panel, making for a discussion that was informative, candid and enjoyable.

The first speaker, Professor Megan Richardson framed the panel discussion around the future direction of privacy law in Australia – does Australia need a statutory cause of action for invasion of privacy, or should the common law protecting privacy interests (breach of confidence, defamation) be left to develop on its own? She noted the ‘careful silence’ of the federal government on the issue, only recently broken by the publication in September 2011 of an issues paper recommending the introduction of a statutory cause of action – a reaction, perhaps, to the resurgence of interest in the ever-expanding News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

Richardson dealt at length with the judicial reasoning in ABC v Lenah Game Meats as to whether the common law alone can protect (individual) privacy interests sufficiently, referring to Gleeson CJ’s discussion and approval of Hellewell v Chief Constable of Derbyshire as an example of the successful utilisation of the doctrine of breach of confidence to protect privacy. On the other hand however, Richardson noted the imperfections of the common law process, requiring plaintiffs to endure the ‘agonising’ process of adversarial litigation to have their interests recognised. She cited the Campbell, Mosley and Giller cases as pertinent examples of this. Richardson suggested that a statutory cause of action could make a positive difference if it were well-framed.

The second speaker was Michael Rivette, barrister at Chancery Chambers, who along with having successfully argued the privacy issues in the Giller v Procopets appeal, also maintains numerous professional and commercial interests in the media and communications sector. Rivette spoke of the continuing influence of the ABC v Lenah Game Meats case upon the development of the law of privacy, both in Australia and overseas. He suggested that the Victorian authority of Giller actually afforded greater privacy protection through breach of confidence than exists under the common law in both the UK and New Zealand. While he acknowledged the potential benefit of a statutory cause of action, Rivette highlighted the drawn-out nature of the law reform process, and said that in the mean time, ‘we have to do what we can with what we have’.

The third speaker was Michael Gawenda, whose perspective on the issues was coloured by his extensive experience as a career journalist and author. Gawenda noted that ‘journalists are in the business of invading people’s privacy’ on the basis of public interest, however he was clear that this end did not always justify the means (this can be contrasted with recent remarks by former News of the World journalist Paul McMullen). In particular he was critical of the idea that the apparent consent of a journalist’s subject to an invasion of privacy might legitimise or validate that invasion. In concluding, Gawenda was sceptical about the ability of the legal system to deal comprehensively with privacy issues, suggesting that perhaps the regulation (formal and informal) and culture of the media industries needed to change as well.

The final speaker was the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG. Kirby suggested that a consideration of privacy law should begin with the question: ‘Why do we want privacy?’ – framing the answer in terms of the ability to have control over our personal lives, arguing that personal privacy is important to our ‘fullness’ and ‘flourishing’ as human beings. In this sense, Kirby was of the European perspective that personal privacy is a human right which should be protected by the law. After highlighting the imperfections of the various options canvassed in the recent issues paper – do nothing, expand the role of the Press Council, rely upon the courts to develop the common law, et cetera – he came to the conclusion that the best way forward for privacy protection in Australia is the creation of a statutory cause of action for invasion of privacy.

The session highlighted the numerous stake-holders in the ongoing development of privacy law – the media, the legal profession, celebrities, ‘normal’ people – each with their own perspectives, concerns, and objectives. The task for the Australian law is to consider and balance all of these things in continuing to move towards a more coherent law of privacy.

Tiffany Wong is an LLB/BMus candidate at the University of Melbourne.

Oscar O’Bryan is holds an LLB from the Melbourne Law School.

Jake Goldenfein is a PhD candidate at the Melbourne Law School.


The success and failure of Steve Jobs

December 12, 2011

A review of Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, Little, Brown, London 2011.

By Julian Thomas

Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker piece (14 November 2011) offers a familiar, contrarian view of Steve Jobs’ career and significance. The key theme is drawn from Walter Isaacson’s extraordinary new biography: the dazzling successes of Jobs, together with his signal failures as a technology entrepreneur, were not the result of great vision or technical genius. Instead, Jobs’ significance lies elsewhere. He was an adept appropriator of other people’s ideas. He unfailingly recognized failure in other people and things. He had a perfectionist love of “closed systems” — that is, he could not relinquish control over the uses and applications to which Apple’s devices might be put. So the machines that Jobs introduced and helped invent – the computers, phones, tablets, and music players – embodied both his strengths and weaknesses; they were and are distinguished by being both brilliantly designed and obstinately difficult to adapt, extend, or modify.

The last three decades of computer history, and the debates that have raged over innovation and control in the technology business, are the background to Isaacson’s book. In a sense he has written, almost inadvertently, a biography of a certain kind of intellectual property. The foreground narrative is a rich new source of Jobs folklore, and this is what occupies Gladwell, and presumably many other readers. Some, maybe most, of these new stories confirm the nightmarish picture of Jobs’ manic, profligate pursuit of technical innovation. Again and again, Isaacson’s protagonist drives himself and others to extraordinary lengths by his oppressive, relentless, contemptuous, and sometimes ridiculous perfectionism. Towards the end of the book, Jobs’ expresses his disappointment in President Barack Obama, whom he thinks is reluctant to offend people. “Not a problem I ever had”. In Gladwell’s version, Jobs’ real significance is as a flawed example of a specific kind of technology developer and marketer. He is the archetypal ‘tinkerer’, not an original inventor, but an improver and tweaker of other people’s ideas. His skills are ‘editorial’, not inventive; his products are derivative, their development driven not by an original vision on Jobs’ part, but by his caustic, unerring grasp of the weaknesses of his competitors. Nothing Jobs did, in this account of things, was entirely new. The Mac’s great original selling points, its graphical user interface and bitmapped screen, were borrowed from technology developed by Xerox. The first versions of tablet computers were produced elsewhere, as were smartphones and music players.

Jobs’ tale, then, is about adaptation and appropriation, and these attributes, for Gladwell, turn out to be the essence of economic progress. Far more than the breakthroughs of visionary inventors, it was the work of engineers and technology entrepreneurs in taking ideas from elsewhere and improving them that powered the industrial revolution in Britain through the nineteenth century. As a tinkerer in this vein, Jobs achieved great things. But his tinkering has an unusual characteristic: his perfectionism, which was necessary to his success, also led him to jealously refuse others the freedom to adapt and modify that he enjoyed.  He was a tinkerer who perversely created obstacles to the tinkering of others, whether amateur users, or firms wanting to make products that would work with his. He resisted suggestions that the early Apple computers should include more (or any) expansion ports for third party add-ons; he struggled with the idea and consequences of licensing operating systems at Apple and NeXT; he tied the iPod to the iTunes store, and would not allow other music stores access to the device. And now, in the case of the newer iPhone and iPad, the development and distribution of third part applications is strictly controlled through the App Store. At the same time, Jobs is enraged when others copy his ideas: he sues when Microsoft copies the Mac’s “look and feel”; he goes ballistic when Google launches the mobile operating system Android, which he believes steals ideas from the iPhone.

So in Gladwell’s account, Jobs was an innovator who lacked the modesty and self-awareness to understand his own role and achievement. He was a ‘tweaker’ (no dishonor in that) who imagined himself a visionary. Famous from early on for his “reality distortion field,” he deceived himself, and became an innovator who stood in the way of innovation. Other contemporary commentators on technology have taken this theme further: Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet (And How to Stop It) presents the iPhone as the ultimate ‘tethered device’, designed to ensure Apple’s control over users’ applications and content. For Zittrain, the iPhone is a salutary contrast to the ‘open’ architecture of the classic PC, which, for all its faults, could be far more readily adapted and modified by users and third party businesses. Here we find an old line of argument, that “openness” (and the associated goodness of “open source”) is the real recipe for innovation and inexpensive distribution. In the case of computing, it’s hard to argue with: even deep within the iPhone, there is POSIX, and elements of BSD Unix. The striking thing is that the closed iPhone has itself sparked an amazing wave of innovation. Whole new kinds of software, including locational media and games, educational, creative and social software, have been developed, and are readily and cheaply available for Apple’s devices. The good thing for everyone is that all this new software is now also spreading to a host of other phones and tablets, including the freely licensed (if not precisely open source) Android machines.

Isaacson’s book participates fully in the “closed system” narrative. But it also presents the elements of a more complex and interesting picture, of someone who did possess an unusual intuition for the design of useful machines; and of someone who modified his business strategies as his career progressed. Jobs did want control, and more of it than many of his customers would like, but he also realized he had to make the iPod compatible with Windows machines, and he opened the iPhone to third party developers after originally resisting the idea. He obviously hated Android, but he knew also that Apple had to compete with it. If he was a tweaker, he was (to use a metaphor that would not usually be applied to a Californian) in the Shane Warne league. But I’m not sure that tweaking aptly describes what Jobs did. It should not be difficult to acknowledge that he, together with many others, created novel things, even if they did so on the basis of the work many others had done: after all, that is usually the way. Some of this creating certainly involved adapting, or ‘editing’, but it also required acts of imagination. Gladwell’s generally precise language is vague when he describes Apple’s famous appropriation of the graphical user interface from Xerox: he says Jobs “borrowed the characteristic features of the Macintosh — the mouse and the icons on the screen” — from the engineers at Xerox PARC”.  Whatever that sentence means, in fact Apple successfully and almost completely transformed both the mouse and graphics: the machines it produced in the following years were clearly major advances on Xerox’s Star.

Anyone interested in contemporary debates over innovation and intellectual property will have their own reading of Isaacson’s book, and their own sense of the stakes in Steve Jobs’ daring adventures. Some of the most interesting elements of the story concern the way Jobs re-organised Apple around his characteristically ambitious and romantic idea of connecting the humanities with technology. In a couple of presentations he used the image of an imaginary intersection between two streets: ‘liberal arts’ and ‘technology’. Design and engineering were to be deeply connected in the conception of new products, even if that meant that everything was more difficult, more protracted, more risky, and more expensive. Sometimes in his career Jobs overcooked the aesthetics, but Apple’s results in the end justified the effort. Like much else in Jobs’ story, ideas and aspirations of this kind help us think again about the assumptions we make about computers and their places in our lives, about the relations between technical and creative innovation, the unexpected places we find novelty, and the persistent question of who owns what.

 

Julian Thomas is Director of the Swinburne Institute for Social Research


And it’s goodbye from us

December 12, 2011

So here we have it. The Fortnightly Review of IP & Media Law: compiled and composed by academics, students and others interested in intellectual property and media law – mostly based in Australia and linked somehow to the University of Melbourne; focused on the topical, opinionated and sometimes contentious; including articles, comments and round-ups of current events (lectures, seminars, law reform activities); interdisciplinary in its inclusion of economic and literary contributions as well as law ones; published fortnightly (usually); available for free on the internet; and with hundreds of followers. It’s been an exciting experiment in collaborative publishing over the past two years, based on the model of one of those popular nineteenth century journals and magazines that were edited and written by a range of authors and served as conduits for public information and debate. But, for all the enthusiasm of those participating in the Fortnightly Review, we’ve reached the limit of the partly-amateur motivated to a large extent by affection for the task at hand. So we say goodbye, with thanks to our authors and readers, to IPRIA and the CMCL for partly sponsoring our publication, and to an Australian Research Council funded project on amateur media which sparked our interest in popular journals and magazines.

From the editors:

Jake Goldenfein
Vicki Huang
Andrew Kenyon
Megan Richardson

Melbourne, December 2011

The Fortnightly Review of IP & Media Law wishes you a good summer break.


In this edition #31…

August 26, 2011

Chris Dent looks at the current gene patenting debate from another angle, analysing the conflicting discourses and methodologies that create problems for shared understanding and resolution.

To see full post click here

Sarah Lux analyses the UK government response to the recent Hargreaves Review and its recommendations for IP law reform.

To see full post click here

And, Elisabeth Cooke notes some aspects of the present federal government’s Convergence Review, including some of the framing questions and terms of reference.

To see full post click here


Genes, Patents, Divisive Debate

August 26, 2011

By Dr Chris Dent

The recent discussion around the patenting of genetic materials is remarkable for its stridency. Witness, for example, the current Senate Committee review of the Patent Amendment (Human Genes and Biological Materials) Bill 2010. This post is not to add another voice that speaks the “truth” of a particular position but it is a step back to consider a key principle that constrains the nature and content of other participants.

My perspective is that the debate invites passionate responses because it is sited at the junction of four different (and competing) bodies of knowledge and/or practices:

  • patent law;
  • the science of genes;
    • the nature of entities that seek to commercialise advances in the sciences; and
  • the politics of public health.

Taken together, these different bodies mean that the debate is (necessarily) incomplete.

Patent law

This is not the place for a detailed exploration of patent law. It is sufficient to say that the system started over 400 years ago in a time without significant state infrastructure or a scientific world view that privileged rigorous experimentation (outside the alchemists and their alembics). Since then, the system has adapted to multiple new technologies, different understandings of economics and varied forms of governance. As a result, it is now a complex beast that has highly technical understandings of what is “novel” and “inventive” (both of which are tested against the “prior art” but what constitutes the prior art for each test is different). The law has been developed, in part by the legislature, in part by the courts (to fill the gaps left by Parliament), and in part by the patent office (to fill gaps not yet considered judicially). It is itself, a regulatory technology aimed at encouraging innovation – there is no should about it. There are just rules.

But, some will say, the patenting of genetic material is against these rules, that a genetic invention is not “an artificially created state of affairs”. The problem here is that there is no statement of Australian law saying this. Until an appellate court (to respect the doctrine of precedent) or the Parliament says otherwise, these patents may be granted – whether they are valid depends on a court ruling. It may be stretching it to apply the maxim nulla poena sine lege, but without clarity that such patents are invalid, innovators in the area of gene science are equally allowed to seek a patent for a development with industrial application that has not been forbidden.

Science of genes

Of the four bodies of knowledge, this is the one I know least about. It is, however, central to issue of the patentability of genetic materials. I am not even going to attempt a summary of it. I will, however, assert that it takes years of university training to be an expert in the area – in the same way it takes years of training to understand the nuances of patent law. Even a judge ruling on a dispute over a patent over genetic material does not, despite the best efforts of the professors who act as witnesses, become expert in the science generally – though she or he may have a good grasp of the specifics of the invention in question.

Nature of organisations

Not all organisations that seek to commercialise innovations are profit-driven companies. Those that are have a focus on providing a return on the investment of the owners of the firm. Two issues arise from this. First, it is these entities that the rationale for patents is aimed at. Patents, under current economic theories, are to encourage investment in research and development. Other types of organisations also have a role in the development of genetic innovation, like small start-ups and universities. Neither of these are beholden to shareholders; however, it is not clear that either are immune from a desire to gain patents – in order to gain future funding or for profile purposes. The second matter of importance is that it takes skill to successfully run a company (whether it be research intensive or not) – skills that have developed over years in business. For someone outside business to dictate how to make a profit in a competitive industry is as disrespectful as to accuse a geneticist of not understanding the science of genes.

Politics of public health

The politics of public health relates to the way in which the debate occurs in practice. People and organisations (including government agencies) express an opinion, sometimes backed up by evidence sometimes not, in the public domain – talk-back radio, newspapers, in response to government publication and in Senate Committee hearings. The debate is not a free-for-all; there are (often unspoken) rules and forums of engagement. The debate is also coloured by party political affiliations and economic policy perspectives (including higher education funding and costs of healthcare borne by taxpayers). As with the other three bodies of knowledge, the development of policy by those internal, and external, to the government is a matter of learnt practices – to acknowledge, and accommodate, the interests of diverse stakeholders is not a straightforward task.

My perspective

A key feature of the debate is the dominance of binaries. Much of the discussion focuses on, for example, patent protection versus competition; consumers versus companies; or simply right versus wrong. The approach of this post appears to add another: those within/trained by a particular body of knowledge versus those outside that discourse. The additional binary, however, offers an acknowledgment, and explanation, of the incompleteness of the debate.

The additional binary encapsulates and explains the others as each of these discourses has its own central “truth” that guides the actions of its members. The exclusionary nature of these bodies of knowledge produces an awareness of the “other” – those who remain uninitiated and outside the discourse. That is, the difference in truths and language means that there is a limited capacity for communication with those outside each body of knowledge – an outsider cannot easily comprehend the intricacies of patent law or the science of genes; they can understand it in broad terms (so the communication does not fail totally), but not enough to allow full communication.

In short, the limited understanding across discursive boundaries may be seen in terms of incompleteness or “failure” – there can never be complete, or total, communication. Unless all participants are schooled, to the same extent, in all aspects of the debate, there will always be a degree of miscommunication. Tied to this is that the purposes of the participants differ: the motives of a geneticist are different, for example, than those of a lawyer. The differences in constitutive actions renders problematic the pursuit of complete understanding. This acknowledgement that the debate is (necessarily) incomplete should not be seen as a negative. That there is no resolution itself acknowledges the ongoing processes of governance.

The acknowledgement that the debate is, and will be, incomplete does not mean progress will not be made. There is, after all, no such thing as the “perfect” law; there is, as a consequence, law reform. Of course, progress in this context is a contingent term – what represents progress for one side may be seen as a backward step for the other. Nonetheless, the more communication that acknowledges issues of communication (and this may include the use of empirical research to demonstrate or discount a discourse-bound assertion) the greater the potential for shared fragments of understanding. The competing motivations and practices of the different bodies of knowledge problematises the possibility of total understanding – the efforts that go to shared knowledge and practices offer common ground and a reduction in the issues of translation across discourses.

Chris Dent is a senior research fellow at the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia at the Melbourne Law School

(return to the top of this edition)

For an example of recent discussion on gene patenting see Fortnightly Review author David Brennan’s recent piece in The Conversation.


The UK Government on its Digital Opportunity

August 26, 2011

By Sarah Lux 

Earlier this year, the Fortnightly Review reported on the Hargreaves Review and its recommendations for the reform of UK intellectual property law. The UK Government has now released its official response, announcing that it accepts all of the Review’s recommendations and aims to implement measures by the end of this Parliament to ‘realise the Review’s vision and deliver real value to the UK economy, and to the creators and users of Intellectual Property’.

Importance of Evidence

The Review emphasised the need for IP policy to be grounded in clear economic evidence of the impact of regulatory mechanisms on competition and innovation. Professor Hargreaves identified two main areas of concern: the lack of high-quality evidence to support some intellectual property measures and an overabundance of lobbying by private interest groups.

The Response begins with a set of promises geared towards ensuring that UK IP policy is informed by better evidence. In relation to the first concern, the Response notes that the Government has ‘begun an ambitious programme of economic research with partners’, referring readers to an outline of its proposed research. The outline includes plans to:

  • assess possible economic effects of congestion in the trade mark register;
  • study the economic value of public domain works;
  • develop an approach for measuring IP enforcement costs against the effects on rights owners, consumers and the wider economy;
  • link all IP rights to business performance measures;
  • assess the economic cost of invalid patents;
  • assess the volume of orphan works and their impact on creators and users; and
  • develop a methodology for research into economic and social impacts of copyright exceptions.

In relation to the second concern, the Response states that the Government will give limited weight in IP policy-making to evidence that is insufficiently open and transparent, and will make it clear when it is doing so.

However, the Response also states that perfect evidence is an ideal, and that in making IP policy it is sometimes necessary to ‘guess and get on with it’. Accordingly, while the Government will aim to be guided by ‘emerging evidence’, it will continue to prioritise ‘rapid progress’ towards an improved IP system.

Digital Copyright Exchange

The response to Professor Hargreaves’ proposed Digital Copyright Exchange (DCE) is that a DCE ‘has the potential to offer a more efficient marketplace for owners and purchasers of rights’ and that it could contribute up to £2.2 billion per year to the UK economy by 2020. The Government will therefore commission a ‘champion’ of the DCE to undertake preliminary steps towards its creation.  The DCE champion will report back on progress at the end of 2011.

However, the Response implies that the Government will give less weight to the DCE than was envisaged by Professor Hargreaves. Hargreaves recommended that a work which cannot be found after a diligent search of the DCE should be regarded as an orphan work and automatically licensed for use. The Government, on the other hand, regards DCE searches as only ‘a valuable first step’ in searching for the owner of a work, and notes the need for other diligent searches before a work can properly be treated as an orphan. The Government takes the view that compulsory participation in the DCE would be contrary to the Berne Convention.

Orphan Works

The Government intends to make proposals at the end of the year for an orphan works scheme incorporating the safeguards discussed above.

Copyright Exceptions

The Response agrees that greater exceptions to copyright are required in theUK. The Government intends to make proposals at the end of the year for ‘a substantial opening up of theUK’s copyright exceptions regime’.  This will include proposals for:

  • a limited private copying exception;
  • a widened non-commercial research exception (which should cover text and data-mining to the extent permissible under EU law);
  • a widened library archiving exception; and
  • a new exception for parody.

The Response adds that there is a need for wider exceptions at the EU level, since theUK’s scope for action on exceptions is limited. The Government will therefore ‘aim to secure further flexibilities’ at EU level.

Enforcement

Among other measures to improve enforcement, the Government intends to introduce a small claims track in the Patents County Court for cases with £5,000 or less at issue, for use in copyright, design and possibly trade mark cases, to increase access to enforcement by small and medium enterprises.

Patents, Designs and Trade Marks

These areas of intellectual property law received little focus in the Review, which dealt mainly with theUKcopyright regime. However, the Review did make some recommendations on patents and designs.

On patents, the Government undertakes to:

  • resist extensions of patents into sectors which are currently excluded, in the absence of clear evidence that this is necessary;
  • provide for work-sharing with other patent offices in order to address backlogs; and
  • investigate the scale and prevalence of issues with patent thickets as well as potential solutions.

On designs, the Response notes that the IPO has commissioned research on the relative levels of design registration in theUKcompared toFranceandGermanyand on whether theUK’s lower level of registration has impacts on the competitiveness of theUK. It also noted that designs might be included in the DCE or its equivalent.

International Policy and Crime Strategy

Alongside the Response, the Government has released The UK’s International Strategy for Intellectual Property, which outlines the role the UK envisages for itself in working towards an efficient, well-functioning international IP system, and The UK IP Crime Strategy 2011, which discusses the ways in which the UK will continue to enforce IP law domestically.

Conclusion

The Government’s response to the Hargreaves Review was one of resounding acceptance, at least at the level of principle. Despite the long road towards implementation that no doubt lies ahead of these Recommendations, the Government’s positive response increases the likelihood that the principles underpinning the Review, and its key findings, will be considered closely in the upcoming review of Australian copyright.

Sarah Lux is an intellectual property lawyer at Allens Arthur Robinson and an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of New South Wales.

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