Category Archives: Uncategorized

Request for input; Demarcation and Food Security

A colleague from Moi University, Josam Musambayi contacted me recently with an outline for a paper he is writing on demarcation.  Whilst demarcation of land is not a topic we would normally cover on this blog, the issue may be of general interest to this community, and has legal implications.  

Does anyone have any suggestions or advice for Josam in his work?  You can download his draft paper here.  He says:

“uncontrolled subdivision of agricultural land …[could increase the] likelihood of food insecurity

..the purpose of my paper is to gather information for use by the planners and government policy makers, especially in Africa , on the food security situation… the population explosion in Africa is placing a huge demand on governments for food provision , climate change notwithstanding.  Contribution from scholars is welcome so that we can share this information with others.

Please contact Josam directly if you have any comments on this topic – his contact details are in the draft paper.

US Patent Reform: America Invents Act Passed

On September 16th President Obama signed The America Invents Act, introducing some much-needed reforms to the American IP regime.

Key components include:

• Reduction of patent backlog
The law allocates additional resources to the USPTO, which will, hopefully, enable the agency to reduce the current backlog of 680,000 applications.

• Reducing litigation
The USPTO will now offer patent owners new tools, which lawmakers believe will enable many patent disputes to be resolved without the need for expensive litigation.

• Increasing patent quality
Additional resources, tools and new management processes will be allocated to ensure that patents granted are of higher quality, i.e., less likely to be overturned or disputed.

• New fast-track option for Patent Processing
If you can afford to take advantage of this new option, and meet the criteria, wait time can be reduced from 3+ years to 12 months.

• Better protection abroad
Harmonizing the US patent process with legislation in other countries will, in principle, provide more efficient and predictable protection for American patent owners abroad.

The overall goal of the legislation is to stimulate innovation by making the patent process more efficient and effective.

Business Week describes the legislation as “The Biggest Overhaul of the Patent System Since 1952” and quotes Senator Patrick Leahy, who co-sponsored the measure:

The America Invents Act will ensure that inventors large and small maintain the competitive edge that has put America at the pinnacle of global innovation.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the legislation is that it embraces first-to-file for new patents, as opposed to the current first-to-invent standard. For one of many perspectives on this, read Paul Kedrosky’s blog post, Patent Reform: Romance vs Pragmatism.  Only time will tell just what the impact of this reform will be, but several commentators observed that the Act does little or nothing to curb the activities of so-called patent trolls.

This important piece of legislation contains a number of additional provisions. More information can be found at the USPTO web site and at IP Watch.

Post written by Peter Bloch

Collaborative research

Bengt Järrehult, Director of Innovation and Knowledge Management at the SCA (Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget), writes:

 “One of the major findings in mankind’s history is realizing the value of working together. Without it we would have starved to death about 100 000 years ago because a single man going hunting is very inefficient (I know – I am a hunter). We have also seen a very strong correlation between the amount of innovations happening and the number of people who are interconnected in the society during the course of the years.”

You can read more at “Open Innovation: To Cooperate or Collaborate –That is the Question

This reminded me of a previous post on collaborative research “ResearchGATE and Its Savvy Use of the Web”  I revisited the ResearchGate site which has expanded significantly over the last 18 months, and now lists nineteen specialties under Agricultural Science, from Agricultural Economics through Irrigation and Water Management to Waste Management.  Researchers from all over the world have signed up.  According to the site, there are now over 1 million members involved in 24 disciplines.

Post written by Peter Bloch

See also “Open Innovation; how should we deal with the IP?

Reputation – the importance of this intangible asset

Further to the News of the World scandal[1]in the UK, Intellectual Asset Management blog ran a post about reputation, “Reputation – the most important intangible asset there is.”  They said:

 “Reputation is, of course, an intangible asset – one it is very difficult to measure, to manage and to protect. But just because it is difficult does not mean it should not be done. What has happened to the News of the World, and the knock-on effect this has had on News Corp, just goes to show the truth of that.

 …the fact is that without a reputation off which you can leverage strong brands that people want to buy into, the other intangibles, intellectual assets or intellectual property rights you own will be far less important than they could be.

This is as relevant in the public sector as it is in the private sector of course.  There are certainly parallel lessons to learn.

[1] For those who might not be familiar with the scandal, the BBC had extensive coverage.  For a summary see “Q&A: News of the World phone-hacking scandal


An inside scoop on technology patents

This American Life is one of Public Radio International’s most iconic, unusual and stimulating programs, and producer Ira Glass has turned his eye on a hotly debated aspect of the patent system – the acquisition and management of IP by non-operating entities (NPEs), often referred to as “patent trolls”.  You can listen to this fascinating and informative one-hour program HERE.

The program explains the origin of the term “troll” (the toy of an Intel lawyer’s young daughter); follows the trials and tribulations of several individual inventors (including Jeff Kelling of internet company Fototime), and interviews Nathan Myhrvold, the founder of Intellectual Ventures (IV), described by one patent lawyer as “a troll on steroids”.

Patent reform activist David Martin, CEO of M•CAM weighs in and demonstrates his DOORS analytic software to show that 30% of patents are worthless, often because they are not “novel” (e.g., patent 6,080,436 was granted in 2000 for “bread refreshing method”; that turns out to be toast!).  And for insight into one of IV’s many lawsuits (IV v. Hynix Semiconductor et al) you can download an M•CAM analysis (one of the Patently Obvious® series) HERE.

The program explains why the buying and selling of patents is likely to continue as a profitable and controversial business that affects the entire tech industry.  The targets of NPEs like IV, along with many observers, believe that the practices investigated in the program discourage innovation and impose a huge burden (the time and cost of litigation) on innovators, and especially on vulnerable tech start-ups.

IV claims to help inventors move their innovations into the market place.  But IV is not buying inventions; they are, for the most part, buying patents, many of which may belong in Martin’s 30%.  And while IV’s stated intention is to license these patents, they often sue without any attempt to negotiate a license; the threat of litigation can cower start-ups into paying royalties even when the outcome of an IV claim is uncertain. IV owns 35,000 patents and informants describe how the company effectively licenses their portfolio to third parties for use in quashing competition or for defensive purposes.

Last but not least, the $4.5 billion sale of Nortel’s patent portfolio that was acquired recently by a consortium including Apple and Microsoft for defensive purposes is discussed.

Complex?  Yes, very.  But listening to the entrepreneurs, inventors and lawyers who are interviewed on This American Life brings the subject into perspective.

Post written by Peter Bloch

Genetic resources and integrated seed sector development training

Wageningen is offering a programme during April/May 2012 on approaches in genetic resources conservation and use, and integrated seed sector development in the context of climate change.

The programme consists of two three-week courses offered in parallel sessions: (1) Genetic resource policies and genetic resource management strategies, and (2) Integrated and participatory approaches in agrobiodiversity management. Additionally, one-day workshops on special topics are organised in which the participants of both courses will join.

The brochure goes on to explain:

 “The objective of the [first]… course of the training programme is to enhance participants’ capabilities to more effectively manage plant genetic resource conservation programmes and to use various strategies to support the sustainable use of genetic resources, whilst the objective of the other course is to strengthen participants’ knowledge and capabilities to support the concept of integrated seed sector development. In both courses relevant policies receive special attention…

…the training programme is designed for mid-career professionals working in genetic resource conservation or seed sector development, from policy, research, education or development arenas”

For more details visit their website HERE.  Also, see the course brochure for details of fellowships available via the Netherlands Fellowship Programme (NFP) for nationals of certain countries.

Break for Easter…

Taking an Easter break, will be back next week.

Open Access; more than just citation considerations

Article on SciDevNet called “Open Access: not just about citations“.  It follows discussion on some recently published studies: The Study of Open Access Publishing (SOAP) and a study by Philip Davis of Cornell University “Open access, readership, citations: a randomized controlled trial of scientific journal publishing“.

The discussions have surrounded the intepretation, by some, that the results of this research question the citation advantage offered by OA publishing.  This advantage is:

“generally perceived as a major benefit of OA publishing — the ‘OA citation advantage'”

The item talks about how whilst there has been widespread support for OA, there has not been not widespread practice of OA.   Money was cited as the first disincentive blocking OA uptake, followed by the preference for “established journals with high citation rates.”  This second argument goes back to the long running discussion on how institutes and/or individual scientists are evaluated.

We agree wholeheartedly with the SciDevNet article, when it goes on to discuss the full value of OA journals even if one puts aside the citation aspect for a moment:

“This lies not merely in how they benefit science specialists, but also in making scientific research widely available to those who can neither afford high subscription rates for specialist journals, nor get access to scientific libraries — but whose work or personal interest depend on having access to the global pool of scientific knowledge…

… And as Chan et al. point out [ref Chan article], standards for assessing journal quality and relevance are generally based on “Northern” values that often ignore development needs and marginalise local scholarship”

But what about downloads?  According to the Physics Today blog, “Open access boosts downloads but not citations“, downloads are boosted by OA. Stevan Harnard left a comment on both posts saying “the evidence of the open-access download advantage is growing” and linking to some research to illustrate.

Africa: Innovation update

There are several interesting developments covered in the March issue of African Business.  As this is not available online, I’m covering items of note with a brief summary as follows:

Chemistry:  While funding for equipment and researchers is still a challenge, scientists have made measurable progress especially in the investigation and classification of natural products.  Several networks, such as the Pan Africa Chemistry Newtork (PACN), have sprung up to support collaborative research.

World Bank focus:  The World Bank recently announced plans to expand funding of African development programs and to focus on stimulating public-private partnerships in various sectors.

Kenya to expand geothermal:  Kenya currently derives 12% of its energy from geothermal sources in the Rift Valley.  The state-owned Geothermal Development Co. has announced a large-scale exploration plan intending to double this.

Africa launches first private satellite:  Intelsat New Dawn plans to launch a comms satellite this month from French Guiana.  Partners include major African mobile telecoms such as Vodacom and Bharti Airtel.

Superbloc:  Implementation of the much-discussed Grand Free Trade Area (GAFTA), a partnership involving COMESA, EAC and SADC is projected to start in 2012.

Post written by Peter Bloch

Is Open Source “bad”?…. NO!

Spotted another take on the Plumpy’Nut case this week.  Readers of this blog will know we have been following this news closely over the past year. (See our posts here).  The post on AfroIP was entitled, “The Sticky Situation Surrounding Plumpy’Nut.”  The writer, Isaac Rutenberg, (Patent Agent at Bozicevic, Field & Francis LLP in San Francisco) observed:

 “The problem is that intellectual property and the implications of certain acts are often not fully understood by scientists and especially by the general public.”

Oh yes, and the need to raise awareness in general about IP issues is something we know is important.  And it’s not always easy.  A compelling 2 minute elevator pitch on IP in Ag4Dev can be challenging…  That’s why when I spot an analogy that resonates with me I take note!  And in the article about Plumpy’nut, the writer made a useful connection between Open Source, and keeping outputs available. 

“Contrary to popular belief, open source software is protected by copyright. The copyright owners (e.g., the software authors) have simply said that they are willing to grant an open license to anyone who would like to use the software, subject to some conditions. One important condition is that any advances made on the software must also become open source, so the software continues to improve but always remains freely available for use. If there was no copyright protection of the original open source software code, the open source system would not work.”

Thanks Isaac Rutenberg, well put!  It’s one of the best known examples of protection not meaning unavailable.  Of course it is not without its problems, Open Source can be very complicated when it comes to derivative works.  Nonetheless it’s a useful example — there are no silver bullets!