Prior Art Advocate

I finally have a topic that I’d like to share with the entire group. I’ve got to give everyone a bit of background in order to make my larger request, so I extend my gratitude to those who read this entire post.

I was recently in Bozeman, Montana to work on a remote sensing project I’ve been trying to get off the ground for the past couple of years. While there, I had the chance to hear a talk by a professor at Montana State University who served as an expert witness in an IP/trade secrets case Google filed against Uber related to autonomous vehicles.

Essentially, the professor was hired to help rebut Google’s assertion that an Uber subsidiary was infringing on roughly 100 intellectual property claims.

Whatever your opinion of Google, Uber, or self-driving vehicles, the underlying issue goes straight to the point of why I’ve been working to support open hardware and software for the past 15 years.

Upon looking at Google’s claims, the professor’s response to many of them was, “Come on, we do this stuff all the time in the lab!”

While I think many of us can relate to that sentiment when reading about some iffy patent - it is also very hard to demonstrate, in an adversarial legal proceeding, that certain practices really are part of the broader community’s knowledge base.

This imposes a sort of opacity under which we all work - academics, public researchers, private sector - where, because the “obvious” facts and phenomena we’re all familiar with go unenumerated, they become targets for appropriation by people with bad intentions, or often who simply do not know that they reinvented the wheel.

This leads me to my question to the group: does anyone know of efforts to raise the awareness of generally-known phenomena in their field of practice? Especially in a way that provides a defense against unjust claims of IP infringement. I seem to recall an effort by an organization in Ireland, but I was hoping for something U.S.-based.

And if something like that does not yet exist here in the U.S., does anyone want to talk with me about starting up an effort? I am fairly well-acquainted with issues related to seed/genetics (think Open Source Seed Initiative), and increasingly in optical technology, so I can bring that subject matter expertise to the table. Talk to me!

In a sense, I wonder if we might need something like a Prior Art Advocate, someone to argue for common knowledge in the patent process - a role with institutional authority, not just something that only happens when the lawyers get involved.

Anyhow, thanks in advance!



I reposed here on a similar topic at GOSH -

A defensive strategy for those who support the public domain is critical. We can’t ignore laws, but we can use them to our advantage (thus the strategy of copy left). Fully support the idea, would love to actively discuss on a call, or maybe at a GOAT event as a session or series of them.

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Thanks, Greg! I’m going to have a couple conversations over the next few days with some people who may be able to add some additional perspective, and post what I find here.

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I’m super grateful for your thoughtful post on this. I’d love to chat more about this too. Things I’m particularly interested in include:

  • Licensing options for open source components for reusability in ag tech, with mechanisms to allow for contribution back to the software-fund in commercial-use scenarios.
  • Mechanisms for open ag data sharing policies (incl. privacy) and legal protections/allowances
  • State of the legal landscape wrt open source, best practices from other successful open source projects, and even basic guidance on things to keep in mind, easy mistakes to avoid, or how to get started in thinking about licensing and funding models.

I just wanted to jot down these quick thoughts. We’re gearing up for GOAT 2020 in June, and to +1 Greg, it would be a particularly awesome GOAT 2020 session. Or if you have some next steps in mind, I’d love to learn more!

I wanted to drop in with an update on this topic. I would love to help organize a session on this (as well as another on governance issues with data, but that’s another story!), and would be ready for real-time conversation in March.

I attended the Organic Seed Alliance’s conference out here in Corvallis, Oregon last week and talked with a professor at Vermont Law School, Emily Spiegel. Emily recently wrote a guide for plant breeders, who have been fighting the appropriation of their varieties by large companies. If you’re not familiar with the Open Source Seed Alliance, you can check them out here:

Anyhow, here’s a link to the guide:

And here’s an article from the Vermont Law website:

I think this work represents an important step toward what I wrote earlier. It provides a format/framework for the standards to which an open/public domain claim can be asserted. The next step would be a platform to broadcast this information in some way. Maybe that’s a topic for GOAT 2020?

Anyhow, I was hoping to talk w/ Prof. Spiegel soon about this. Maybe she would be available? I’ll ask…