13.0336 patenting knowledge? revised MLA guidelines?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Sun Jan 09 2000 - 21:26:10 CUT

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                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 336.
          Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

      [1] From: "David L. Gants" <dgants@english.uga.edu> (58)
            Subject: software patents and humanities computing

      [2] From: Matt Kirschenbaum (24)
            Subject: call for comments: revision of evaluation guidelines

            Date: Sun, 09 Jan 2000 21:11:09 +0000
            From: "David L. Gants" <dgants@english.uga.edu>
            Subject: software patents and humanities computing

    >> From: Mark Wolff <WolffM0@hartwick.edu>

    In one of the recent posts to Humanist (13.0324 free ESL software) there
    was an advertisement for a new ESL program. I have no intention of
    slamming the software or its producers, but I do have a question that
    hopefully someone out there who knows more about this than I do can
    answer. In the ad the author states that the commercial software in
    question (despite the subject header, the software is not free) utilizes
    "a patented new theory of grammar." Now this is something new to me as
    a scholar in the humanities: patents on knowledge. Other disciplines,
    especially in the physical sciences, apply for patents all the time for
    things like new polymers, pharmaceuticals, computer chips, etc. Authors
    of texts are compensated for their intellectual labors through
    copyright, but copyright only protects authors from unauthorized
    reproduction: I can read a text (or use a computer to read a text, as
    in the case of software) and talk about it all I want, provided that I
    have access to a copy of it. Copyright restricts my ability to make
    (illegal) copies of a text. Patents on the other hand describe a
    process by which a thing is made which can then be sold for a profit.
    Scientists can discuss the process by which a new polymer is made, they
    just can't make the substance in their labs for sale on the market.

    The thing that bothers me here is that if knowledge in the humanities
    (in this case, linguistics) can be patented, what effect will this have
    on research in humanities computing? Suppose someone takes the ideas in
    this patented linguistic theory and creates an original program (ie they
    write the code from scratch) that allows one to parse a sentence for
    language learning. Or suppose that the linguist/programmer in question
    develops a new theory and creates a better language parser that depends
    on the original patented theory. Would the programmer/linguist infringe
    on the patent? The recent lawsuit between Amazon.com and one of its
    e-commerce competitors would suggest that software innovation such as
    this would make scholars and/or universities liable for damages. One of
    the issues surrounding the Amazon patent, which you can read about at
    http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/amazon.html, is that Amazon has patented
    an obvious idea for e-commerce: the use of client-side cookies to keep
    track of what online shoppers want to buy before they "check-out." The
    competitor did not copy the actual code running on Amazon's machines,
    they just implemented the same idea which Amazon claims is "theirs."

    Many of us who write code for humanities computing get ideas from what
    we observe when we visit other web sites, academic and commercial. I
    don't think this is copyright infringement because we don't copy the
    code, just the ideas. Of course, we often do grab each other's code, but
    we ask for permission and acknowledge each other's contribution. If I
    were to write a program for a search engine that could handle texts
    encoded in XML (a big "if," but what the hey), would I have to patent
    the program in order to protect myself? What if I made the code open
    source and distributed it freely to anyone who wanted to use it? Are
    humanities computing scholars forced to work for software companies if
    they want to develop research tools, or must they be consumers of
    software products and let companies outside of academia decide how we
    will use our computers?


    Mark B. Wolff
    Modern and Classical Languages
    Center for Learning and Teaching with Technology
    Hartwick College
    Oneonta, NY  13820
    (607) 431-4615


    --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sun, 09 Jan 2000 21:11:46 +0000 From: Matt Kirschenbaum <mgk3k@jefferson.village.virginia.edu> Subject: call for comments: revision of evaluation guidelines

    On behalf of the MLA's Committee on Computers and Emerging Technologies (CCET), I would like to invite members of Humanist to review and comment on the proposed revision of the MLA's "Guidelines for Evaluation of Computer-Related Work." The draft version of the new document, entitled "Guidelines for Evaluating Work with Digital Media in the Modern Languages," can be found here:


    The importance of this document should be obvious to all. Please help the committee to ensure that it will serve the profession effectively.

    See also a second document recently drafted by the CCET, entitled "Draft Guidelines for Institutional Support and Access to Information Technology for Faculty and Students in the Modern Languages," available for review and comment at that same address.

    Please address comments on either document to Douglas Morgenstern, <dmorgen@MIT.EDU>.

    For the CCET,

    : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :

    Matthew G. Kirschenbaum Assistant Professor, Department of English Research in Computing for Humanities University of Kentucky

    Technical Editor, The William Blake Archive

    mgk@pop.uky.edu mgk3k@jefferson.village.virginia.edu http://www.rch.uky.edu/~mgk/

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