What Kind Of Professor Patents A Way To Make It More Expensive & More Difficult For Students To Learn?

from the insanity dept

Torrentfreak has the story of an economics professor (of all things) who has apparently received a patent on a way to try to force students to buy expensive textbooks. The professor, Joseph Henry Vogel, is positioning this patent (8,195,571) as an "anti-piracy" technique, though it appears that it works equally well in preventing students from sharing a single textbook or merely checking the textbook out of the library. The details of the patent are hardly new or innovative either. The basics are that the class has both a textbook and an online discussion board -- and buying the textbook provides you a code that allows you to enter the discussion board. In theory, you could also just buy the code.

There'a all sorts of idiocy involved in this situation. Let's just separate out a few examples:
  1. How the hell does something like this get patented in the first place? There is a tremendous amount of prior art in the form of things like "one-time" use codes for video games and other digital offerings to limit the used sales market. And yet this still gets approved? USPTO examiner James D. Nigh should be ashamed for letting this piece of garbage get approved.
  2. The claims here (the patent only has four) are so broad and so general, I don't see how it passes the non-obvious test, nor how it is anything more than mashing together a few different things that are widely available already and have been for years. After the KSR ruling the USPTO was supposed to reject broad patents that just combined basic concepts already found in the market.
  3. How could a professor of economics actually think that locking up access to information is a good idea? That alone would make me avoid any class that he taught, as his understanding of information economics is way, way off.
  4. It's sad that anyone in academia would think that this is a good idea. In an age where Harvard and MIT are investing a ton into opening up access, this guy is focused on locking it down.
The whole thing is extraordinary for how bad of an idea it is -- and the fact that a patent was actually issued on this only compounds the ridiculousness.

Filed Under: economics, education, harvard, james d. nigh, mit, textbooks, uspto


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  1. icon
    fogbugzd (profile), 12 Jun 2012 @ 3:08pm

    Re: From The Tough Titty Dept.

    I think AC's basic point is that you need books to be expensive to give author's an incentive to write them. Since this is AC, he probably means that the books need to be high-price and available through traditional publishers. The truth of the matter is, most textbook authors who go through traditional publishers get very little money from textbooks. Very, very little. Occasionally you may have a jackpot book that is widely adopted, but the AC is talking about upper level science courses where wide adoption is almost impossible because of the limited audience. Most of the benefits of publishing come indirectly from the prestige associated with publishing.

    Efforts like Lulu provide a much different environment. Lulu makes self-publication relatively easy. The author gets a much larger cut of the profit and the prices for students are much lower. Everyone except the traditional publishers and over-priced college bookstores win.

    The other thing that I have found about Lulu books is that there tends to be much more of a community around the Lulu books than the ones from major publishers. You tend to get authors and educators using the book together, and everyone benefits here too. Lulu has been around long enough that some books are now in second and third editions. You can see that there is major improvement because of community input. It is also interesting that the authors of the book tend to change from one edition to the next as different members of the community take responsibility for developing the textbook and keeping it current.

    College textbooks may become a classic case of a traditional business pricing itself out of the market and creating an entrance for disruptive technologies.

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