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
    Beta (profile), 12 Jun 2012 @ 4:11pm


    "My hope is that one can engage in civil debate with an open mind to change one’s opinion when presented with logic and evidence."

    We are delighted to hear this, Professor, and I really hope you're reading this blog.

    In your second paragraph you write:
    "Research-active universities do not reward professors for publishing textbooks yet many top professors have written textbooks. One can only assume the motivation WAS monetary."

    In response I quote your fourth paragraph:
    "I have... maxed out from any sort of career advancement at my institution. I invented the patented system largely for the same reason that I research and publish: the challenge and joy of puzzle-solving."

    You go on to say:
    "With rampant piracy, the best and brightest will no longer publish textbooks and the students will suffer from inferior quality textbooks."

    "Rampant piracy" will give the students access to the best textbooks that exist. Magically stopping piracy will restrict them to the horribly expensive books written by their merely average instructors (often released in a new, slightly modified edition every year to kill the second-hand market). According to your scheme it will prevent classmates from sharing a book, which is simply indefensible. And if you want to argue that the best minds in the field will be unable to make a substantial profit writing textbooks where there is copying, or that they would be unwilling to do so without such profit, you will have to present a much better argument, backed by real evidence.

    This is getting about as long as a rebuttal comment should be, but I note that many of your further arguments about what you expect publishers to do with this new technology (e.g. yo expect them to lower the price of textbooks once they have an effective monopoly) look to me like wishful thinking at best, and astonishingly ill-informed.

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