Intellectual Property (IP) and Climate Change
This is only a blog, and I’m only someone with an intellectual property (IP) background who also treads in the world of hydroclimatology. I can share some first hand accounts/perspectives on how scientists in a climate science world can work to advance and protect their intellectual properties. Some copyright attribution failures, hardly a fraction related to my own work,may have impacted climate change policy. That may seem like a stretch, unless you’ve been in the middle of it.
How does copyright attribution failure influence climate policy? The short answer aligns with a viewpoint that failure-to-attribute equates to failure-to-recognize. That failure provides a framework for the criticism to disappear on paper and in the media. That may be a different flavor of failure-to-attribute than the conventional type. This post explores those two strains of IP neglect, by deriving from my own experiences in intellectual property (IP) and related experiences.
I’ll start from a most positive attribution experience to date. The Calabacillas Art Project, points to a comprehensive artist attribution page. I may be biased because I was an author, but in my view it followed a worthy attribution standard. AMAFCA and I had reached out to all of the adult art contributors, many of whom were artists, curators, or teachers. If only for some visual content to add to this post, here is an artwork design I created as the original proposal to AMAFCA in 1996 for that Calabacillas channel stabilization artwork, followed by my scale model of the T Rex, followed by a photo after construction was complete. The final image is a photo of the hundreds of assembled artificial fossils, prepared by hundreds of volunteers, after they were all finally cast in cement shortly before construction shotcrete spraying at the arroyo began.
AMAFCA also won three independent design awards and I was recognized there as well, along with the other contractors who did the actual heavy lifting. Attribution was appreciated by all because it was important to all. A different example scratches the surface of an IP battle between a startup company I had helped to found, Global Haptics, Inc (GH). and Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI). The tipping point of that battle changed over time. It started with a potential infringement by SGI against GH patents, but ultimately rested squarely upon plagiarism, as documented within the relevant resources at IEEE COMPUTER Magazine. That would be a detour but the IEEE pieces about this particular dispute help to clarify what can be most appropriate for IP citation purposes between academic technology and engineering versus climate change journals.
For example, the quarrel boiled down to a comparison between a featured scientifically peer-reviewed COMPUTER magazine article, and GH’s published patent. In IEEE’s view based on the above GH – SGI event, copyrights are to be honored, whether from peer reviewed journals, or patents, or any other publication. I can contrast that to the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) position that copyrights are only to be honored if the original work is found in a published manuscript (a peer reviewed journal) . My understanding is that every original item published on the internet is suitable, if not mandatory, for citation wherever relevant. But regardless of what any might think as well, IEEE and AGU both cannot be right.
I appreciate that IP battles play out for many across a variety of scales. In my case, along with expert witness work, IP battles had been routine, and GH had taken out patent protection insurance because of that real business risk for high tech startups. This never has stopped. GH somewhat recently had to take on one of the world’s largest consumer electronics companies over an IP dispute. We won, but the settlement fee was only a nanoscopic sum. Also because we signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), I am not permitted to publish the name of that gargantuan entity. Because of the thematic association with this post on ocean pH (keep on reading), I’m justified to call that one a pHyric victory. In any event, the haptics example was a conventional or garden-variety IP quarrel and it lacked any ideological agendas or the like.
Now that a few more years have gone by almost purely in agenda-rich academia, it may not be surprising that I’ve had a few more scrapes trying to establish priorities of climate-science related IP. Once for example, I filed a provisional patent on a climate forecasting innovation. However I ultimately decided to publish that technique in a peer-reviewed journal . But other IP conflicts continued in a climate science direction for me. I’ve always tried to attend responsibly to some of those challenges without ruffling too many academic feathers. And because this is just business, much like my fiduciary duties as President of Global Haptics, Inc., I’ve had to at least try very hard to cultivate detachment.
From this hopefully objective perspective, I think there are several differences with a climate change type of IP challenge. For example, at least from my solar perspective, most climate change notions appear to be irreproducible. Accordingly it would be difficult to dispute attribution or related topics in a venue such as a court of law or an administrative hearing. Also I guess it is somewhat correct to say that in business, the IP is largely about things or processes. A successful inventor may relish some obscurity, but an academic or other research author cannot prosper from their IP, if their contributions are not attributed.
I had suggested that there are intense ideological factors that might distort otherwise garden-variety intellectual property disputes or quarrels. I think my past identification of wholesale ocean pH measurement data omission is a good example. As a researcher in 2013 I was the first to raise awareness of millions of missing ocean pH data records. I initially brought up the missing data with leading ocean acidification (OA) scientists Feely and Sabine at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL). I didn’t mean to turn that experience into a confrontation but I found it necessary to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, in order to advance in my necessary objective of finding that missing data and reconciling it to the scientifically accepted OA time series curve over the last century.
During the FOIA period, the PMEL scientists continually stressed to me their strange determination that no data prior to 1989 was acceptable. Remarkably, this determination never appears to have been broadcast prior to the filing of that FOIA. Rather audiences only were provided an alleged historical ocean pH curve. My FOIA ultimately revealed that most of that curve over the 20th century had derived from non-measurements. By end of this 2013 FOIA exercise, the PMEL scientists disclosed to me where I could find the missing data. Shortly thereafter, the $2M Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE was initiated to improve the state of pH measurement in oceans.* At least one of the PMEL scientists sat on the XPRIZE board for this award. The PMEL scientists also subsequently authored a complementary NOAA web page to try to explain why they omitted 80 years of scientifically-collected Ocean pH measurements.
If only to stay on the IP track, my view was that I contributed an original notion that significant ocean pH measurement data was excluded. Wendy Schmidt’s organization appears to have responded to offer an XPRIZE for better ocean pH measurement systems. And the PMEL page offered a related rational about the missing ocean pH measurements. I viewed their failures to attribute me or my FOIA to be a type of phlagiarism. I don’t recall if I reached out to Wendy, but I did explore this issue with PMEL/NOAA and they quickly added my name to attribute appropriately. I hope that the XPRIZE site can also follow their belated example.
Oddly enough, no peer review papers on the missing ocean pH measurements have since been published to the best of my knowledge. I tried myself three times but rejections were swift. The ocean acidification meme is in any case still very much alive. Perhaps then, the phlagiarism term can point to a uniquely climate-change flavor of IP abuse: The skeptic brings up the challenging facts. The climate change organization then announces that these facts are a concern but carries on without attributing the skeptical scientist. In failing to attribute, they fail to sufficiently recognize the scope of the original critique. They may be free to carry on without any further reforms.
IP wise, this is a disaster, but better audits can perhaps prevent it in the future. As with any IP related process, the actual value of the climate change related IP will be more accurately estimated upon the timely restoration of best industry technical and scientific review practices. Independent technical evaluations of the work of others is an expectation that we take for granted from much publicly funded research. For lack of a better term, those audits fall within the ensemble of what the scientific and engineering consensus regards as best practices.
Bouncing back and forth between academic and business IP topics seems easy to do. For example, I likely could explore in a later post how the new pH meters that the XPRIZE funded have been working out since then. Are they possibly cheaper, faster, and better than everyday glass electrode pH meters? If the new XPRIZE-inspired pH devices are not better, I wonder when the PMEL will finally restore the missing 2 million glass electrode pH measurements covering 80 years of modern data around the world. If you can’t wait, consider signing this phetition. I doubt it will change anything, but it might make you and I feel a little better.
IP is something for many researchers and inventors and artists to remain mindful of. It comes in many flavors and it flourishes and/or withers under many circumstances. IP and accordingly the technologies it relates to, cannot prosper if scientists and others neglect to honor copyrights and patents. Perhaps a level playing field for climate causation and climate projection IP growth and the resulting science, can be improved through independent scientific auditing and also through improved attribution practices.
 June 6, 2016 written communication from Randy Townsend, Director of Journal Operations at the American Geophysical Union (AGU https://www.agu.org/) to University of New Mexico (UNM) Dean Julie Coonrod, UNM Dean Tim Lowry, and others.
 Wallace, M.G., 2019, Application of lagged correlations between solar cycles and hydrosphere components towards sub-decadal forecasts of streamflows in the Western US. Hydrological Sciences Journal, Oxford UK Volume 64 Issue 2. doi: 10.1080/02626667.2019.
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