Friday, 9 August 2002

Computer science and intellectual property

Listening to:

Beethoven, sonata no. 1 in F, op. 5 no. 1 for piano and cello.

The famous computer scientist, Edsger Dijkstra, died on Tuesday. His work, a significant part of what passed to me through the people that taught me as an under-graduate, inspired my decision to come to Cambridge to do my PhD.

Ross Anderson reckons that the University of Cambridge is about to shoot itself in the foot, by demanding rights to its academics’ intellectual property. Up ’til now, the university has spawned useful links with companies within the region. I can offer some personal evidence: our departmental pigeon-holes have just been rearranged so that the pigeon-holes companies working within the lab are all grouped together. There’s quite an impressive column of them all. Though not all of them will necessarily make it, there’s a good chance that a high proportion will make their way into the wider world and become successful companies, generating money and jobs. Nonetheless, the University claims that this success is nothing to do with its current liberal intellectual property rules.

Worse still, the proposal might prevent academics from giving their property away for free. I’m not directly a university employee (being employed by a university college, St. Catharine’s, instead), but I’d be pretty hacked off if some university bureaucrat told me that I couldn’t make my work on HOL freely available.

This piece from the Observer (also linked to from Ross’s site), is one of a number of polemical responses. I was amused to think of myself as a “hot-house plant”, only able to blossom under certain conditions.