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Patent Trolls Undermine Open Access

Friday, October 28, 2016 10:10
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Open Access Week

This Open Access Week, the global open access community has a lot to celebrate. Hundreds of universities around the world have adopted open access policies asking faculty to publish their research in open access journals or archive them in open repositories. A few years ago, open access publishing was barely recognized on the fringes of science; now, it’s mainstream. Three years after the White House’s groundbreaking open access memo, we may be on the verge of passing an open access law.

Again and again, we’ve seen how making the results of scientific research available to everyone is good for innovation. Innovators should be able to use and build upon the most up-to-date scientific research, regardless of whether they have the budgets and institutional connections necessary to access expensive journal subscriptions and academic databases—particularly when that research was paid for with public funds.

But even as university research becomes accessible to a wider public, some of that same research is falling into the hands of patent trolls, companies that serve no purpose but to amass patents and sue innovators who independently created similar inventions. When universities file patents on inventions that arise from scientific research and then sell those patents to trolls, it puts a strain on innovation. That’s why EFF recently launched Reclaim Invention, a campaign to encourage universities to adopt policies not to sell or license patents to trolls.

Patent trolls place a widespread burden on innovation, often sending identical demand letters to dozens of small companies at once. It’s particularly ironic when trolls amass patents from universities—the companies least poised to fight trolls are the ones with the fewest resources, those same independent innovators that university open access policies are meant to aid.

As the open access movement continues to grow and mature, we hope to see open access allies on campus begin to take on their institutions’ patenting policies. University patenting and licensing policies directly affect how researchers’ outputs will be used in the field. The same arguments that have given way to the explosion of open access publishing also apply to patents—just as researchers shouldn’t trust their work with publishers that don’t have the public’s interest at heart, their institutions shouldn’t sell patents to trolls out for nothing but a quick buck. Instead, they should partner with companies that will bring their inventions to the public.

After all, the public paid for it.

Take ActionTell your university: don’t sell patents to trolls.

EFF is proud to participate in Open Access Week. Check back all week for opportunities to get involved with the fight for open access.

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