There's a disturbance in the force. A number of voices in the IP community have signed an, "Open Letter on Ethical Norms in Intellectual Property Scholarship." It is a call to set, and uphold, high ethical standards in IP research. Largely concerned with legal scholarship, the letter focuses on private funding, transparency and objectivity in academic research.
|(The Clone Wars, by Pities)|
There are five Star Wars references
in this post - can you spot them all?
At stake in the IP world is ethical policy debates. Academic IP researchers are increasingly involved in advocacy. <Merpel notes that some of the Katonomist's blogging could be considered as such.> Research and evidence is "political ammunition" in policy debates and this evidence should be held to a high academic standard. The authors of the letter argue:
"We cannot imagine that any academic believes that his or her judgment is subject to purchase. Nevertheless, the flow of dollars can have an insidious effect on values we hold dear in academia. We have seen evidence in other fields that researchers who receive gifts and support can have an uncanny tendency to find results that would please their benefactors. One must be mindful of the delicate pull of friends with money."The IP 'Open Letter' recommends ten professional norms for IP researchers (paraphrased in parentheses):
- Research disclosure (research funding is disclosed)
- General personal disclosure (researcher's other ties are disclosed)
- Institutional disclosure (institution's funding is disclosed)
- No quid pro quo (conclusions can not be dictated in exchange for funding)
- No prior approval (funders do not have the right to approve/disapprove publication)
- Data disclosure and replication (data is made available)
- Collegiately and open inquiry (play nice and no bullying)
- Dispersed institutional funding (institutions should have diverse funding)
- Call for action (discussion on norms should continue)
|Meow Wars, by Kevin Dooley|
Your Kat's Thoughts
The Open Letter suggests not a lack of faith, but a concern about disturbing questions regarding the issues such as independence of copyright research and a lack of transparency in funded research centres. As evidence-based policy continues as the dominant principle in IP policy, independent evidence is crucial. Biased evidence becomes biased political ammunition. Similar arguments can be made for the academic research in court cases and authorship of amicus cure briefs.
Many private funders are likely to be luke-warm to the 'no prior approval' principle in which they would not have the right to approve or disapprove research before it is made public. Funders are held accountable by their stakeholders, and are under pressure to review outputs of research, such as white papers (persuasive documents issued by firms and governments) or supporting commissioned research. Yet prior approval is a slippery slope and clearly reduces research independence. Funders may be tempted to cherry pick (support publication of research conclusions that confirm the funder's particular point of view, and to dismiss conclusions that do not). This blurs the fine line between consultancy and academic research.
|Can you clone this?|
Where does this leave us? The letter was written with, "aspirations of reaching the highest ethical norms possible" for IP research. There is little to quibble about this goal, but much do be done to put these aspirations into practice. As a community, the norms will help us avoid a Big IP hyperbole, and we can hope for independent research to continue to contribute to healthy debates in IP.