back to article Gov unveils plans to make tax-funded research freely accessible

All publicly-funded research data should be made freely accessible to benefit business and society, the government has said. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said making the information freely available would help stimulate economic growth, innovation and entrepreneurism, and improve public sector …

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Don't universities already do this?

> commercial advantage for UK companies

Apart from research that is classified as secret, I was under the distinct impression that most work results in a publication of something, somewhere - that's how academics and researchers earn their brownie points and assure themselves of future employment.

Better yet, the one in a thousand (guess) pieces of research that can be turned into something useful generally gets commercialised by the spin-off companies that universities have all created to exploit such ideas.

So we already have an environment where public money that funds _useable_ research is turned into money-making opportunities for british companies. Obviously where existing companies (british or foreign) fund or sponsor a piece of work, they reap the benefits of any knowledge gained. But for new ideas from research grants of goverenment money, there is already a route to market - even if it's limited by the lack of entrepreneurial "buzz" in the funding departments.

Maybe what we need is not another initiative or institute (the more steps in the process, the greater the delays incurred) but some government underwriting - again using OUR money - of the nacent spinoffs, to ensure that what profits they do make stays in the country, rather than going to venture capitalists with no commitment to the UK

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Publication *where* is the issue; I don't know how much research you do online but the dreaded pay gate rears its head a lot. Taxpayer-funded research should be available to all for free.

Secondly, it's my understanding that most of these spin-off companies begin by patenting the methods which the taxpayer paid to develop. The opportunities to exploit research which the taxpayer funded should be open to all. You and I should be able to compete using the same basic research.

I'm not sure of the exact situation in the UK since most of the interesting research comes <ahem> from the US where the situation is very different. I might be talking balls.

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@Eddie Edwards

Presumably the research would be published in a journal and then a spin off company formed in these cases? Doesn't that mean the company can't obtain a patent anyway?

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@Knuckles

I think the usual practice is to obtain the patent before you publish the paper. You are then listed as the inventor and that justifies your shareholding in the spin-off company.

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@Ken

Ah ok, well my initial thoughts are that this seems a bit underhand if the research is publicly funded. Mind you I expect there's a fair bit of research which is both privately and publicly funded, so what would they do then?

Private companies can of course get government grants for lots of things, we don't expect them to share patents with the tax payer, we just assume it will have a positive net effect on society.

Some of the departments at the university I went to had ties to industry which was undoubtedly beneficial to the students and researchers, although whether it was accountable exactly whose money was being spent where I don't know.

The more I think about it, the less I think it's clear cut. We give away lots of money as tax payers, but don't automatically expect an accountable financial return. Society isn't a bank after all.

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If you *don't* patent your idea, can somenone else?

It sounds as though this government believes that only UK firms would access - and use - UK - or rather Enlish - funded research (not clear whether the same laws apply in the devolved nations - or whether the England publication requirements would apply in the devolved nations): if an invention is *not* patented or protected, what protection is there for the originators or funders from someone else patenting it elsewhere?

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What *ought* to happen, unless the Berne convention has been completely consigned to the history books, is that as soon as the idea is *published*, no-one (not even you) can obtain a patent. In practice, it seems to be possible to patent a version of the idea that differs in some utterly trivial idea. The USPTO will cash your cheque (or check!) and the rest of the world has to go through a US court in order to overturn your immoral, fraudulent, crooked and intellectually insulting behaviour.

And faced with such institutionalised theft, the response of the rest of the world's politicians appears to be "absolutely incomprehension and inactivity for a decade or so, followed by a dawning realisation that they could perhaps get their snouts in the trough, too, if only they were crooked enough".

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Black Helicopters

It's mine

Taxpayer (that's me) funded research should be freely available to all UK citizens. UK companies should pay a fee, foreign corporations (Google!) should pay a much higher fee.

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Unhappy

UK companies pay tax too!

Unless they're 'cosy' with Dave Hartnett, apparently.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: don't universities already do this

The problem is, many journals require subscription (and getting it for a lot of journals can be really expensive if you're a business), meaning that you pay a (usually) foreign company overinflated rates for accessing results of research paid for from your taxes. That's the problem here.

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They do- but it's not freely available

The point is this is a drive to make academic reseach paid for by the taxpayer freely available rather than have to pay to see the results of something you have funded. That's not a trivial matter at all, it opens up a lot of interesting avenues that businesses can follow up.

Situation now: A small company in niche market has the wherewithall to search Google Scholar or Scirus for research relating to their business and finds a reference to a paper that, whilst taxpayer funded is behind a paywall. Maybe there's an abstract available to inform your purchase. Do you want to risk £30ish of your bottom line on something that may not even turn out to be worthwhile? Probably not, and opportuinities might be missed. Not massive opportunities, perhaps, as you rightly point out, those go to spin-out companies but what academics think is important to industry and what industry thinks is important sometimes differs.

This is a good initiative, especially for small and niche businesses. the trick will be convincing journal publishers to wreck their own business model in charging for access to their content. There's an argument to say the rot has already started: more journals are publishing free to the web, more papers are being scanned and uploaded in breach of copyright and that's before you consider torrents of entire journal runs that are not that hard to find.

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Freely available

So what the government is proposing is that we the great unwashed through our taxes pay for our wonderful universities to do some great research that could make us a wealthy nation once again and then the Govt will freely publish that material so that anyone anywhere in the world can take that research, patent it and then via the normal patent trolls sue any British company that tries to do something with it. May be a flaw in the idea here.

In a world where information is freely shared and patents systems are not designed to allow companies to block competition on vague and very wide patents the sharing of taxpayer funded research is a great idea. Unfortunately we don't live in that world.

A better approach here would be for the Govt to ensure that UK companies which are capable of manufacturing or developing products in the UK and pay their corporate taxes here (as opposed to paying them in Ireland from their 6x8 board room) have first shot at actually making use of such research. That would be a much better way to benefit UK businesses and society rather than US or Chinese businesses.

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You can't patent something that's been published in an academic journal.

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Anonymous Coward

but what counts?

You might say that every work-relating thing I do at my desk (that isn't admin or teaching)

is taxpayer funded research. So, you all want access to a scan of every bit of paper or back of envelope I ever scrawled an idea on? A recording of research related tea break discussions? A video of me looking baffled for several hours (or sometimes, days)? Half finished work that will probably sit in a drawer for a while until I get the idea that enables me to finish it? Experiment or simulation data that makes no sense to anyone but to me, and is currently inconclusive? If so, when? Now? After 1 year, or 2, or ten? And do you want explanatory notes and documentation; if so will you fund an an assistant to help?

But if all you want is the published research paper to be freely available, then fine. I do that already, using my website or the arxiv. But "research" doesn't mean just published papers or large formal, managed datasets, or carefully documented simulation code.

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Anonymous Coward

What tax-payer-funded research

The research councils have spent the last 25 years desparately trying to force academics to find industrial partners. Consequently, an awful lot of quite useful research has been *partially* funded by the tax-payer and partially funded by a company. The usual procedure in such cases is that the research gets published (in an expensive journal, see comments above) but any commercial rights are shared between the university and the company, so any third parties reading the paper and hoping to exploit the results will be disappointed.

So if the government had fully funded all this research, they'd be in a position to give it away (as implied here). But they didn't. So they can't.

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Trollface

Raw data, too?

I do hope this includes all data back to the raw files used to create enhanced views such as aggregates and other statistical analyses. Furthermore I hope that whenever possible this new plan is applied retroactively to data used in research already published. Finally, code (or at least the formal algorithms) used to manipulate the data and produce the reported results is essential to give the full picture.

Suck on THAT, Phil Jones!

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Taxpayer funded research. The Census and Ordnance Survey spring to mind. What's the betting they'll be excluded?

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Flame

Academic journals would be a good start...

Tried getting hold of copies of research papers in just about any field? Google Scholar (other search engines are available) will point one at dozens of pay sites but as pointed out above - it's expensive if you're a company with a big research budget. It's impossibly so if you're an individual studying for your own interest.

Even the Open University - to which I have contributed over various graduate and post-graduate courses for pushing twenty years, off and on - have closed their library to me now I have completed a Masters and have no current courses of study open. Damn it, I can't even get to my own dissertation (yes, of course I have a copy!) and I can't get to anyone else's either.

The vast majority of research is jealously guarded by the papers in which it was published (and only occasionally revealed by its authors) and in most cases, the person who is casually interested has exactly no chance of selecting the one paper that will answer his questions. Abstracts are all very well - except they often aren't, and frequently what is promised is not what is delivered. But by then you've paid your thirty quid or so to find out... you can't do that very often.

The net result is that you can only study - in depth - if you are a student. This strikes me as not a particularly wise condition to be in.

Example: the two critical papers, the research from which all spelling error detectors and correctors are ultimately derived, are Shannon, C. (1948). A Mathematical Theory of Communication, and Levenshtein, V. I. (1966). Binary codes capable of correcting deletions, insertions, and reversals. Soviet Physics Doklady, 10(8). The first is available, but the second apparently not unless you are a member of an approved institution.

It may seem that you don't feel sixty-year-old research is relevant in the current day - but (a) this applies equally to more recent publications, and (b) if you don't follow the logic back to the source, you have to take it on trust. In the cases I quoted, the trust is probably reasonable... but if you don't read them for yourself, you'll never know. You just end up trusting (a) quoted by (b) in (c) as comment on by (d) and further discussed in (e)... not necessarily where you want to be or, perhaps, should be.

Meh.

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Unhappy

BIS has *lots* of research papers on research they have funded

But boy, try and find them. No workable search facility I've ever found.

For those looking for 1 off papers in the UK but not linked up to a proper academic library you might like to try interlibrary loans. These have a flat fee for single articles with no known page limit.

AFAIK the fee is *lots* lower than the typical fee charged by any learned society but with a fairly long delivery time (weeks, not days).

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A secondary point I forgot to include last night:

Is that when researching something, it's often not a particular paper that's important but the references from which it is drawn - and those almost never appear in the search engine listings, nor the abstract listings. Sometimes, even listing those references would be useful.

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Tax-funded research should be unpatentable and FREE available.

if We, the society paid for that, we are the owners. We paid that company with our taxes.

EU should enforce this policy.

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