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Sunday, August 1, 2021

The Not-A-Troll Club

Universities seek to ease the technology licensing process

A controversial new patent pool is designed to streamline the process by which big tech acquires the rights to use academic inventions.

David Kramer, 7-30-21, Physics Today

Fifteen prestigious universities have agreed to jointly license the patents they own in three physical sciences fields, aiming to become a one-stop shop where large tech companies can negotiate agreements to use their intellectual property.

The University Technology Licensing Program (UTLP) began operations in September 2020, when the University of California’s Los Angeles and Berkeley campuses signed on. They were joined by Caltech and Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Northwestern, Princeton, and Yale Universities along with SUNY Binghamton and the Universities of Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Southern California.

In January the UTLP received antitrust clearance from the US Department of Justice, which concluded that the arrangement was unlikely to harm competition. Nonetheless, the program has drawn criticism from some digital-rights advocates, who argue that the partnership could enable the universities to pressure companies into paying for flimsy patents.

The UTLP partners have agreed to pool their patents in the areas of big data, the internet of things (networks of sensors, smart home devices, and other physical objects connected over the internet), and autonomous vehicles. The organization will bundle as many or as few of those patents as the prospective licensee wants, says Orin Herskowitz, senior vice president of intellectual property and technology transfer at Columbia. A 15% share of the revenues from licensing will be split among all member universities regardless of whose patents are licensed.

The partnership is meant to make it easier for big technology firms to license patents that are held by the member universities, Herskowitz says. “What we heard from industry is that their products often require licenses for many patents from many universities. If they had to go door-to-door, the transaction costs would be too high, even if they like and respect the patents.” As a result, a company might decide not to launch a new product, Herskowitz explains, or simply to proceed without any of those licenses. “There might even be patents they are using,” he says. “I won’t take the bait on the question of whether they’d infringe on them, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.”

But before issuing a single license—and as UC president Michael Drake predicted—the UTLP has been labeled a patent troll. The influential digital-rights advocacy organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) argues that the UTLP is designed to extract fees for the use of patents whose validity likely wouldn’t stand up in a court challenge.

A patent troll, also known as a nonpracticing entity (NPE), is a company that purchases the rights to inventions it did not make for the sole purpose of monetizing them. Companies that may be infringing on those patents will often pay a licensing fee to an NPE rather than risk incurring substantial litigation costs to have them invalidated. NPEs typically contract with law firms that work on a contingency basis to defend the patents against court challenges, thereby keeping their own costs low.

The EFF, which advocates for digital user privacy, free expression, and innovation, maintains that the US Patent and Trademark Office issues lots of patents, particularly for software, that are not sufficiently novel or inventive. Since the technology areas selected by the UTLP involve software, “the inference is that the [tech] companies are going to be asked by this organization for licenses to patents that are junk,” says EFF senior attorney Kit Walsh. Worse, the EFF says, demands for payment and threats of litigation could prevent small companies and startups from bringing new technologies to market.

Herskowitz says the UTLP doesn’t meet the EFF’s own definition of a patent troll because the member universities are the sources of the inventions. “We’re sad to see this kind of characterization; we worked so long and hard to try and do the right thing,” he says, noting that discussions leading to the patent pool’s formation began in 2016. He argues, too, that the UTLP patents are “strong and useful” and that universities spend part of their limited patent budgets maintaining them.

Herskowitz adds that the UTLP’s primary audience is large tech companies, not small- and medium-size businesses. But Walsh says the UTLP has made no binding commitment to that effect. Asked whether the EFF opposed other patent pools that have been formed by universities, Walsh declined to comment.

In a September memo to the UC Board of Regents, Drake acknowledged that UC could incur negative publicity from a perception that the UTLP is a patent troll. Still, on balance, Drake wrote, the pros of joining outweighed the cons. In addition to raising money to support more research at their institutions, the universities expect their patent-bundling vehicle will attract commercial investment in technologies that have not been successfully licensed via a bilateral “one patent, one license” transaction, Drake wrote.

Shawn Ambwani, cofounder of Unified Patents, an independent membership organization that aims to deter NPE activity, doesn’t consider the UTLP a troll. Universities have checks—and a desire to avoid bad publicity—that discourage them from demanding licensing payments, he says. In addition, tech giants often support universities financially in other ways that would discourage the institutions from enforcing their patents. “There’s no long-term upside” for a university to take legal action, Ambwani says.

Herskowitz agrees: “Universities do everything possible to avoid infringement suits. That’s never been the preferred mode. It would be a last resort.”

Drake’s memo acknowledged the potential drawbacks to the university should the UTLP initiate enforcement or other action against an entity “with which UC has a significant relationship.” Negative impacts could occur even if UC were to exclude its own patents from the litigation.

It’s unlikely that member universities would threaten small companies with demands for payment, Ambwani says. “It hasn’t happened in the past, and universities don’t have the bandwidth to focus on small companies.” Since UTLP members retain ownership of their patents, he notes, it would be up to individual universities to pay the costs of litigation. Herskowitz says the question of legal standing would have to be resolved on a case-by-case basis...

Full story at https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.2.20210730a/full/.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Going to campus?

Many faculty have not been going to campus since the pandemic began. However, the process is relatively simple if you have a record on file of vaccination either in the UCLA Health system and/or in the system maintained by the state. (The latter can be iffy. Yours truly is in the state system, but I have talked to other people who received vaccinations in California through authorized locations and yet were not in the state's database.)

Assuming you meet one or both of the two "ifs" above, you go to:

https://covid-19.ucla.edu/ucla-return-to-campus/

and scroll down to:

"Verifying your vaccination"

Click on that link. Follow the directions. The process includes the standard two-factor authentication to get into your UCLA account. At the end of the process, you will receive a certificate that looks like the one above. [I have blanked out critical parts so that the image cannot be used to create a fake certificate.] The process includes an assertion that you do not have current symptoms and haven't tested positive. The certificate above is good for one day with the date shown. You can print it out or keep it in your device. It is also recorded in a university database.

Note: As part of the process, you will be asked who your "supervisor" is - presumably a dean or department chair for most faculty - and there may not be a name shown if you are emeritus and not currently on the university payroll. Although the directions in that case, i.e., no name shown, tell you to get in touch with HR, ignore them and put in a UCLA email address for your dean or department chair in the appropriate place. (The email address needs to match what is found in the UCLA directory.)

Friday, July 30, 2021

Crowding - Part 2

‘The need is now.’ Cecilia V. Estolano, new UC regents chair, calls for expanding enrollment

Teresa Watanabe, LA Times, 7-27-21 

Cecilia V. Estolano knows firsthand the value of a University of California degree. The new UC Board of Regents chair grew up in the working-class aerospace community of Hawthorne, where there were few Mexican American families like hers. As a child, she saw her stay-at-home mother return to school, earn a UCLA degree and become a community college Spanish teacher. Estolano herself received a master’s degree in urban planning from UCLA and a law degree from UC Berkeley after graduating from Harvard University in social studies.

..As she takes the helm of UC’s governing body this month, Estolano says a top priority will be to expand access to the vaunted public research university system. She’s not yet sure how high enrollment should rise, but she knows when she wants to get started: Now.

“I don’t want to study this for three years,” she said in an interview. “We don’t have the time. The need is now.”

One of your top priorities is expanding enrollment. Why?

The value of a UC education has never been greater before than now. In the last 20 years, the value of having that undergraduate education is almost like the bare minimum requirements for many good-paying jobs. And it’s not just the [bachelor’s programs]. We also need to look at the graduate programs, which are absolutely world-class. Certainly seeing that in the midst of a pandemic ... there was no flagging in the interest in our campuses. Record numbers of applications. The talent is there in the state of California. We just need to create the space for that talent to flower. The future of the state, as well as the future of the nation, really depends on UC expanding its capacity to educate the great leaders, philosophers, scientists, climate researchers of the future.

What will it take?

It’s complex and it’s expensive. You can’t do it on the cheap. It’s not just about admitting more students. It’s not just about mass production. This is about achieving the excellence for which UC is renowned. And that means world-class faculty, outstanding graduate students, and really superior staff, as well as the supports necessary to help students get through their programs in a healthy way ... mental health support, counseling. What I’d like to see us do this year ... is a plan to expand, to have a very thoughtful, comprehensive analysis of where we need to be, what are ways we can accomplish that efficiently without compromising excellence. I underscore the excellence part.

What ideas do you want to explore to achieve this?

We can use our resources better. For example, reducing time to degree creates more capacity. Using our summer sessions more effectively creates capacity. We can also talk about using our facilities more efficiently. Maybe we can also make use of facilities in the community. We can also look at lessons learned from online and remote experiences during the pandemic — both positive and negative.... We have more faculty interested in figuring out how to use remote instruction. If it provided sufficient supports, we could see more classes migrate to some hybrid or remote approach. It worked for a lot of our students, particularly those who are working and have family obligations.

We might also look at sharing resources with our sister segments, like the Cal States and the community colleges, if we’re trying to reach remote locations where there may not be a UC campus or where there may be limited physical facilities. I think there’s also a possibility to work with partners in the [private sector]. Imagine something like an educational hub where students can go to a facility, can get access to coursework and to professors.

The point is to have everything on the table and have a very all-of-the-above approach that’s tailored for each region of the state, that’s tailored for the strengths of each UC campus. But we really need to seek to make a UC education accessible to everyone in every part of the state who has the drive, ambition and wherewithal to achieve.

How much should UC expand enrollment?

I don’t know what the right number is. We’re admitting pretty good numbers. I mean, record numbers. Part of it is where are folks being admitted? You can admit, but if it’s not somebody’s first choice, they may prefer to do another option. Also let’s take a look at transfers as well. We have to take a look at what are the schools that are sending students. Is it just these top five schools, or do we want to really expand that to all the far reaches of California? Do we want to take a look at folks having preferential access near their home campus?

It has to be realistic. It has to be honest. It has to say, OK, if we want to maintain excellence, here’s how much additional faculty we’ll need and here’s the lead time to hire them.... And let’s not forget staff. Staff really keeps the enterprise running. The tremendous growth that we’ve accomplished over the last decade or so has come at the expense of appropriate staff levels, faculty levels, graduate student levels and facilities. So it’s complicated.

Should UC lobby for more funding?

I think that is part of the conversation we need to have. We need to educate ourselves on what it’s going to take, and then educate our allies, our friends in the Legislature, work with the governor’s office. I think we would all like to see our capacity expand. And the great news is we have very resourceful and creative chancellors that are all trying to get at this question. If we pull all of those ideas together, we may be able to have a comprehensive plan to expand that makes sense to the Legislature, to the governor and to the people in California.

What’s your timeline?

I want to get started on it right away.

Full story at: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-07-27/q-a-top-priority-for-new-uc-board-of-regents-chair-cecilia-v-estolano-expanding-enrollment.

Still Not Roaring

Last week when we looked at new weekly claims for unemployment benefits in California, we noted that such claims have been stagnant for several weeks (not showing a falling trend). And now the latest numbers show an uptick for the week ended July 24th. Of course, there are other measures of state economic performance but this one - which seems stuck at the 60,000-ish level when we would like to see it go back to the pre-pandemic 40,000-ish level - doesn't indicate the economy is "roaring back." We also noted last week that the governor seems to have dropped the roaring back slogan.

One cloud over the economy is the rising coronavirus case rate:

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/california-covid-cases.html

The number of cases seems to be heading for a repeat of last summer, although it is far below the winter surge that occurred before vaccinations became widely available. The good news is that the death rate remains low, thanks in part to the vaccines which seem to make symptoms less severe for vaccinated individuals who experience "break-through" disease. Vaccination rates are also highest among the elderly population.

As noted, UC and now CSU will have a vaccine mandate. The governor has a vaccine/testing mandate for state workers and health care workers:

Or direct to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMKrm94Lt2M.

Other jurisdictions such as LA City are imposing similar regulations. Still, the California economy could suffer from the current surge, even if it is less deadly.

As always, the latest new claims data are at https://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Guaranteed Admission to UCLA if...

AB 132, signed by the governor on July 27, includes a guarantee of admission to the UC of their choice, if certain conditions are met, to community college transfer students. So, such students could have a guaranteed admission to UCLA in particular.

Section 5 of the new law, a so-called trailer bill to the state budget, provides the following:

Existing law establishes the California Community Colleges, under the administration of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, the California State University, under the administration of the Trustees of the California State University, and the University of California, under the administration of the Regents of the University of California, as the 3 segments of public postsecondary education in the state. Existing law requires the trustees, and requests the regents, to establish a dual admissions program for eligible freshman applicants, authorizing a guarantee of admission to a campus of the California State University or University of California contingent on successful completion of lower-division transfer requirements at a campus of the California Community Colleges, as specified. Existing law provides that the agreement shall include specified incentives, and that student participation in the dual admissions program is voluntary.

This bill instead, commencing with the 2023–24 academic year, until the 2026–27 academic year, would require the trustees and the regents to offer for first-time freshman applicants meeting certain criteria a dual admissions program, and would authorize eligible first-time freshman applicants to enter into a dual admissions agreement with the California State University or University of California that guarantees the student’s admission to a specific campus of the segment selected by the student at the time of the agreement if the student completes transfer requirements, which may include completion of an associate degree for transfer, within 2 academic years at a California Community College. These requirements would apply to the University of California only if the regents adopt a resolution to make them applicable. 

Full text of bill at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB132

So, there are two "ifs" in this bill. The first is that the Regents have to agree. The second is whatever requirements are involved in completing two years at a community college.

UC Library Search

President Drake announces the introduction of UC Library Search

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Dear Colleagues:

A transformational moment for the University of California is upon us with the introduction of UC Library Search, the first truly unified discovery and borrowing enterprise system across our ten campus libraries, two regional library facilities, and the California Digital Library.

An initiative more than four years in the making, UC Library Search is exemplary of the collaborative work occurring within our university ecosystem. Charged with replacing Melvyl, which since 1981 has allowed scholars to find materials at all UC libraries, staff from across the UC system reimagined what catalog search, library content access, and management can be.

For the UC research community – from first-years to faculty – UC Library Search means faster and easier access to critical resources. In addition to aggregating search results from more than 40 million physical volumes across all campuses, the platform seamlessly connects users with digitally available journals, books and library databases. With hybrid learning and working becoming the “new normal,” UC Library Search supports remote students and researchers by allowing them to pick up circulated materials at any UC campus.

Today’s launch is but the first chapter written in what will be a long history for UC Library Search. With financial support from the Office of the President, this investment in a modern library system will allow UC to more efficiently manage the vast resources of the UC Libraries. Our libraries will continue to enhance functionality, add third-party integrations, and use aggregated analytics to make collective, data-driven decisions.

I congratulate our colleagues whose vision and dedication brought UC Library Search to fruition. Your efforts empower our University of California researchers to light the way.

Sincerely,

Michael V. Drake, M.D.

President

Source: https://ucnet.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/2021/07/president-drake-announces-the-introduction-of-uc-library-search.html

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Or course, since it's online, you'll have to do it yourself:



At some point...

Students have a voting Regent. Faculty do not. The history goes back to the 1970s when both were given the opportunity to have a voting Regent. The Academic Senate chose not to and instead to have a non-voting representative.

Now there is a move to have two student voting Regents. (See below.) At some point, the Academic Senate is going to have to rethink its stance from the 1970s.

From CalMatters: In 2019, the state Legislature expanded the number of students with voting power on the California State University Board of Trustees from one to two. This year, legislators have done the same for California Community Colleges Board of Governors and are considering a constitutional amendment that would make the same change for the University of California’s Board of Regents. While the changes may seem nominal, student representatives say the bills are a win - taken together, they effectively double the number of student voices in some of the nation’s largest higher education systems and send a strong message about the competence of student representatives. 

“It’s important to note that students are the ones who know most about the challenges that they are facing and their voices will be essential in tackling these challenges and potential solutions,” said Democratic state Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda, the author of SCA-5,* which would expand voting power for UC student regents in their first year...

Full story at https://calmatters.org/education/higher-education/college-beat-higher-education/2021/07/uc-community-college-student-voting-power/

==

*Note: The text of SCA-5 can be found at:

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220SCA5.