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Engineering and the law [custodians of information]

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2 Author(s)
C. Walter ; Houston, TX, USA ; E. P. Richards

The control of valuable technical information determines its beneficiaries. The “owner” may exploit the information for a profit or share it with colleagues and the general public. When used for a profit, benefits focus on monetary considerations and the narrower interests of the “owner” of the information. When information is in the public domain, benefits extend to everyone. Information, of course, exists whether there is an “owner” or not. Until discovered, information “belongs” to everyone but can be used by no one. After discovery, the ownership of the information does not change, but who can use it does. Thus, one who discovers information becomes its first custodian, but not its owner. In his thoughtful “GNU Manifesto” (1985), Professor Richard Stallman, a well-known computer scientist, points out that the desire to be rewarded for one's creativity does not justify depriving the world of that creativity, and that creativity is a social contribution only insofar as society is free to use the results. Indeed, if the initial custodians of valuable information deserve to be rewarded for their creativity, they also deserve to be punished if they restrict the use of it. Nevertheless, most legal systems recognize at least 3 methods for the control of information. Trade-secret law recognizes the right of the first custodian of information to keep the information secret and be protected from misappropriation by a subsequent custodian of the same information. The first custodian of information comprising a significant advance in a useful art is permitted to use the information as embodied in the specific advancement exclusively for a period of time in return for disclosing it promptly to the public in a patent

Published in:

IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine  (Volume:15 ,  Issue: 5 )