[Beowulf] Storage

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Fri Oct 8 17:24:43 PDT 2004

On Fri, 8 Oct 2004, Joe Landman wrote:

> Remember, the poor starving universities need to eat too... :(

Oh, I agree, I just dislike it immensely when University's start to
resemble occult, tax protected venture capital investment firms with a
built-in money laundering business in the form of "open and free"
teaching and research.  Supposedly they exist to teach and to do
research in the most philosophical of senses, but for far too many of
them the moment there is a sniff of money in a development they are all
over it.

For "patentable" technology, one can just barely justify this, at least
historically.  For software, which typically lives on a copyright, the
university has no more business getting involved than it has trying to
co-opt a publication to a learned journal and force the author to
republish it with copyright belonging to the University for money.

In practice, I think even the patent co-opting is middling Evil.  Rather
than even partnering with the actual developer who likely had the idea,
did all the groundwork, got the grant, so that the University MADE MONEY
(likely money exceeding the developer's salary) from every step of the
process at basically no risk to themselves, they just assert, sorry,
this belongs to us now and we'll give back some tiny fraction of
anything we make from it to your research program, if you are
fortunate enough to get tenure and keep your grants and still be working
here when we do.

But for software, especially software developed by academics and
grant-paid employees in association with federally funded projects, this
kind of nonsense is just unforgiveable.  One thing I like about Duke is
that they understand the clear benefit to open source software, and more
or less insist that stuff developed by systems staff that is reusable be
GPL or equivalent.  But then you run into a place that doesn't and is
grasping mine mine mine... while freely using the pieces WE contribute
back to the GPL pool.

> There are valid reasons to ask for money for software.  There are valid 
> reasons not to distribute everything gratis (GPL is *not* a business 
> plan) and to constrain redistribution.  These reasons make sense for 
> businesses.  Universities generally have a different mission than 
> businesses (though arguably, Bayh-Dole has blurred this significantly).

One would hope.

> As with other employers, they own in most cases, everything you do.  If 
> you want to build a company based upon what you have done in your lab, you 
> have to negotiate with the tech transfer office.  

"Negotiate" isn't exactly the word -- generally it is laid out pretty
clearly in the faculty and staff bylaws.  Any negotiations had better
start before you even start the project, and to keep something you may
have to formally leave the University before you start or risk their
just taking it no matter when or how you finish.

Greed is a universal human trait, I guess, even in the Ivory Tower.

Doesn't mean I have to like it.


Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu

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