03.02.11

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IEEE is Still Against Scientists, Protects Monopolies Instead

Posted in Patents at 11:15 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Criticism of the IEEE’s stance on monopoly, both in past and at present

THIS IS A tough subject to write about. As a necessary disclosure, I’ve presented at IEEE-organised events and I may do so in the future, so my criticism of the IEEE is intended to be constructive, it strives to help the organisation by highlighting flaws. I’ve written negatively about the IEEE (it even made the front page of Slashdot) in posts such as:

There are several more complaints like these, but they are not necessarily in Techrights. The notion of an untouchable IEEE that cannot ever do any wrong is misguided because the IEEE can be quite malicious at times, just like ISO. Rob Weir has just joked in Twitter by writing: “I suspect that today the 10 Commandments would be written by an ISO committee, copyrighted, and require a licence.”

“They are not a service for the people, contrary to common delusions.”Yes, some of these organisations work like a business. They are not a service for the people, contrary to common delusions. It’s more like those “guilds” and other such fronts for companies with common interests. There is even competition between several organisations which do similar and at times overlapping things, so to disown the IEEE and ISO is not impossible or even impractical.

Stav from Identica has pointed out that “[p]roposed patent reform legislation in US Senate will disadvantage small and startup companies.” See what we wrote about it in older posts which note that the “reform” is not actually solving the real issues. It’s more like a hijack of the word “reform”, which prevents real reforms from taking place. After the IEEE-USA had lobbied for software patents (see links above), there was yet more evidence that it did its unhelpful thing. To quote the new article from Stav’s dent (“IEEE-USA, others challenge patent reform”):

A handful of groups fired off letters opposing a draft patent reform bill the U.S. Senate will debate starting Monday (Feb. 28). Their common theme: the legislation will disadvantage small and startup companies.

The IEEE-USA, the National Small Business Association (NSBA) and a group including seven other organizations said the draft bill will give large corporations a leg up in winning patents.

[...]

Senator Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) challenged the groups’ assertions in one of a regular stream of emails from his office promoting the draft bill. Leahy has been one of the leading champions of efforts over several years to pass a patent reform bill.

Leahy said the bill “will require the PTO to provide a 50 percent reduction in fees for small business and will create a new micro-entity designation for truly small and independent inventors [who] will receive a 75 percent reduction in fees,” he said.

This is not really the key question; the problem is that patents as a whole do not offer any benefits to small businesses. They just cannot find something to sue giants for (without being sued in return, using a much broader patent portfolio). But more importantly, watch what the IEEE does regarding copyrights: [Matt Blaze's blog, via Glyn Moody]

Why do IEEE and ACM act against the interests of scholars?

[...]

In my field, computer science (the very field which, ironically, created all this new publishing technology in the first place), some of the most restrictive copyright policies can be found in the two largest and oldest professional societies: the ACM and the IEEE.

Fortunately, these copyrights have been honored mostly in the breach as far as author-based web publishing has been concerned. Many academics make their papers available on their personal web sites, a practice that a growing number of university libraries, including my own, have begun to formalize by hosting institution-wide web repositories of faculty papers. This practice has flourished largely through a liberal reading of a provision — a loophole — in many copyright agreements that allows authors to share “preprint” versions of their papers.

But times may be changing, and not for the better. Some time in January, the IEEE apparently quietly revised its copyright policy to explicitly forbid us authors from sharing the “final” versions of our papers on the web, now reserving that privilege to themselves (available to all comers, for the right price). I found out about this policy change in an email sent to all faculty at my school from our librarian this morning…

As an ‘old school’ publisher, the IEEE still advocates protectionism and not sharing. It still services big players while forgetting those small members whom it gives some illusion of support. If the IEEE cares about the advancement of science, then it will encourage dissemination of knowledge and fight against patent monopolies. It’s rather clear which side the IEEE is on, yet again.

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