After six very stimulating days with a group of very clever and thoughful people, I feel that I have learnt a lot about the issues associated with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) as applied to areas outside those of universities, in particular. It is clear that the issues around the 'first to invent' and 'first to file' are key concepts in the work that universities do. The USA and the European Union represent the two positions, respectively.
In universities, I would argue, the first to invent (ideas) is of paramount importance, and more important than 'first to file'. In universities we are encouraged to collaborate, to seek to understand the broader implications of the work we do, and ensure that we have been thorough in our articulation of understanding of a concept, interpretation of data, or creative idea. In a 'first to file' application the inventor of a process, the person to whom the intellectual property rightfully resides, can lose their IPR by virtue of not being first to file a patent or trademark etc. This could come about from a casual conversation at a conference or discussion with the wider community. Under the 'first to file' the participant of the conversation/ discussion can then patent an idea, thus effectively taking (a stronger word is 'steal') the originator's IPR. Universities and their academic staff deal in ideas, and the IPR invested in those ideas is crucial for publications, a means by which academics staff gain their affirmation (e.g., promotion, tenure). I and my colleagues have published some thoughts about the myths associated wity this problem, particularly in relation to when one leaves one university to commence work at another (see Williamson, Andy, et al. (2003), 'Issues of intellectual capital and intellectual property in educational software development teams', Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 19 (3), 339-55.
--- (2005), 'A framework for the effective management of intellectual capital and intellectual property within IT communities of practice', in Elayne Coakes and Steve Clarke (eds.), Encyclopedia of Communities of Practice in Information and Knowledge Management (London, UK: Idea Group), 364-74.).
I was left with the feeling by the end of the conference that the 'first to invent' is a precident that should be followed in that it rewards the inventor rather than some third party. What do you think?