Monthly Archives: February 2011

Who owns faculty inventions? Stanford v. Roche

Apparently Stanford University thinks they do. And if they succeed in a court case to be argued at the Supreme Court on Monday their approach to faculty inventions would be a reversal of nearly a century of protections of faculty academic freedom.

The case (Stanford v. Roche) involves an interpretation of the Bayh-Dole Act which was passed in 1980 to encourage the commercialization of research funded by the federal government. Congress granted universities who receive federal research money the right to commercialize new technology through the licensing of patents to which they have proper title. Stanford maintains the Act gives them, automatically, full title to faculty inventions.

Typically, when hired faculty assign their rights, in writing, to inventions to their university in return for a division of any royalty revenue the invention might generate if licensed to the private sector for commercial purposes. For some universities, particularly Stanford and U.C. Berkeley, this has been a very lucrative arrangement. Companies like Genentech and Google have generated billions of dollars of licensing revenue back to those universities and to their faculty inventors for use of those original inventions.

Since the federal government did not think they were very good at that process of spinning off intellectual property they allowed universities to step into their shoes when inventions emerged from federally funded research on university campuses. But that grant of any rights the federal government may have had was not meant to take away the right of faculty to their own inventions much less to any revenue stream those inventions might generate.

If Stanford’s view of the world were to prevail it would reduce the status of faculty, who hold appointments, into mere employees engaged to do “work for hire” that belongs to the university. In other words, the university would cease to be a university, it would become no different than a private sector corporation. This would of course destroy the unique incentives and culture found at a university that lead to pathbreaking innovation in the first place.

An amicus brief defending the rights of faculty has been filed by the AAUP (of which I am a member), the IEEE-US and IP Advocate. The American Intellectual Property Law Association has also filed an amicus brief that makes a parallel argument.

Modern finance capital’s godfather Joe Flom Dies at 87

Flom’s leadership of Skadden Arps, the giant NY based corporate law firm, helped alter the shape of modern capitalism. Flom helped revitalize the market for corporate control as the investment banking world warmed up to the idea that they could and should help with hostile take overs. An era of significant change in management culture followed.

Joseph H. Flom, Pioneering Deal Lawyer, Dies at 87 –

Crony Capitalism and “The Great Arab Revolt”

The only comment I would add to this otherwise excellent analysis of the current revolutionary wave washing over the middle east and north Africa by Michigan historian Juan Cole is that the combination of authoritarian rule and neo-liberal reform is not peculiar to the region.

There is no alternative, as Thatcher would say, to authoritarian rule in order to implement neo-liberal reform – from Poland to China to Egypt it has always and everywhere been accompanied by repression, forced restructuring and unemployment and political corruption leading to inequality and the harshening of class conflict.

The myth of the two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall that globalization would lead to a stable rule of law and democracy has now been exposed for what it is. The events of the last few weeks, only the most visible of a long wave of resistance to restructuring in places like Egypt, only highlight this reality.

Cole says there are now renewed hopes for liberalization, which he suggests indirectly are naive. That is to be determined. The question is the content of “liberalization” – the aspirations of a Wael Ghonim, the Google entrepreneur in Egypt, are likely to be satisfied with a far different approach to reform than the textile workers at Ghazl Shebeen el-Koum.

The Great Arab Revolt | The Nation.

Is Egypt headed for the Weimar “Solution”?

The Times finally wakes up and notices the Egyptian labor movement. Of course, more than 2 million workers have gone on strike in Egypt in the last few years. The 3 week effort to push Mubarak out of power was the cherry on the sundae of a very deep and long effort.

But big questions remain: how will labor organize itself? will it push beyond demands for union recognition and confront basic questions of economic and political organization?

In Germany in 1919 a revived labor movement at the heart of the German Revolution of 1981-19  led to the fall of the monarchy and then the creation of the Weimar Republic. While many on the left viewed it as a new form of progressive government it was hobbled by all sorts of political compromises that in fact left a door open for the restoration of authoritarian rule – in the form of the new Nazi party.

Egypt must avoid that outcome. It is not clear that there is an “Egyptian solution,” however, without a regional solution that encompasses the rest of the Arab world and Israel as well. None of the countries in the region can stand on their own. to be independent of big power influence they need to organize together, democratically.

Workers Press Demands After Aiding Egypt’s Revolt –

After Egypt, is China next?

Here is some critical background information on key role of workers in recent Egyptian events. Stanford historian Joel Beinin confirms my view that the uprising has been in part a response to neo-liberalism and the authoritarian nature of politics that is associated with globalization. For more on labor and authoritarianism in the global economy see my book, From Che to China.

This makes the current international movement very different than what happened in Poland in 1980-81 or in eastern Europe more generally after 1989. In fact, Polish Solidarity was defeated by martial law and neo-liberalism unleashed in the 1980s and 90s.

But the Egyptian events come in response to two decades of neo-liberalism as Mubarak oversaw the dismantling of the state socialism of the Nasser era. As Beinin says about a minimum wage campaign by Egyptian textile workers:

“Raising the minimum wage is not simply an economic demand, it’s a political demand, because it is in opposition to the whole neoliberal economic restructuring project that has been proceeding very rapidly in Egypt, especially since the government that was recently deposed was installed in July 2004.”

A similar kind of neo-liberal reform process is underway in China as the authoritarian regime transitions from Maoist state socialism to property rights based capitalism. And workers there are also engaged in widespread job actions, so it is possible the events of Cairo could be echoed in Beijing and Shanghai. Indeed, there are reports the Chinese censored media and internet coverage of the Egyptian and Tunisian events.

Striking Egyptian Workers Fuel the Uprising After 10 Years of Labor Organizing.

Egypt is not Poland – conservative thinkers wrong about labor’s role in Tunisia and Egypt

This commentary in the UK Guardian tells an important aspect of the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt that is not getting near enough attention in the US, namely that the 18 day movement that ousted Mubarak came after years of struggle and conflict with workers organizing a key factor.

But the article comes up short in its analogy with Poland.

As is now well known, the Polish Solidarity movement that emerged in 1980-81 was killed off by the imposition of martial law. (I was there in Poland in the 80s meeting with underground activists and saw the impact). What re-emerged in 1989-1991 as Stalinism collapsed was a far weaker organization unable to withstand the neo-liberal regime being imposed on a global scale.

In other words, the Polish working class was defeated not victorious over a twenty year period and thus it is not really an “appealing model” as the authors suggest despite the undeniable heroism and inspiration that the 1980-81 period provided the entire eastern European democracy movement.

In Egypt and Tunisia, on the other hand, the strike wave has emerged in the wake of the attempt to impose neo-liberal reforms. Thus, these new unions face directly not just questions of union freedom but of economic and political structure in their society.

And certainly if they do not move beyond what might be called “ordinary bread and butter trade unionism” they will once again find themselves under the yoke of global economic forces, but with new bosses who happen to use Facebook and Google.

But if the Egyptians and Tunisian workers can find a new voice, they may in fact provide an inspiration to Polish workers and workers around the world that resistance to the neo-liberal model of globalization can succeed.

It may be that the reason the authors do not reach this fairly straightforward conclusion and try to steer the Guardian’s labor audience back in time is that there is a conservative edge to their thinking – Lee, although a web designer for trade unions and editor of a website on union events, is a strong defender of some of the worst of Israel’s politics and was a supporter of the US invasions of Yugoslavia and Iraq, while Weinthal is a fellow at a neo-con think tank and writes for National Review Online.

Trade unions: the revolutionary social network at play in Egypt and Tunisia | Eric Lee and Benjamin Weinthal