[UPDATE: Michael Keller, University Librarian at Stanford University (and my boss), wrote a letter to USPTO as well. Thanks Carl for posting it to scribd.]
Carl Malamud made me aware (see his letter to USPTO CIO John Owens below) of a posting on FedBizOpps of a Request for Information (RFI) from the US Patent and Trademark Office:
"This RFI seeks to obtain information from interested parties, including the vendor community, about potential opportunities to acquire patent and trademark data in bulk (my emphasis) and to provide such data to the public without cost. The USPTO is seeking comments on the identified problem and solutions that will make the data available to the public without charge."
While there is mention in the RFI of IP data being easily accessible to the public, there's no mention of data.gov. This seems to be purely a "no-cost" way for USPTO to upgrade their IT infrastructure by giving away public domain information.
This is worrisome on so many levels as it is just one more example of a government agency looking to outsource and privatize public domain information *and* its IT infrastructure -- see for example the Thomson West contract with the GAO to digitize their legislative histories. Additionally, in a vague nod to transparency, USPTO will be holding 1 (yes only 1) vendor information meeting on Sept 24. I'm not sure how USPTO thinks that a 2 week notice for a meeting held in DC will help the cause of transparency. Shouldn't they have several meetings in different geographic locations to talk about such a huge and important public resource (nearly 2 petabytes of data!!)?
Luckily, this is only at the RFI stage, not RFP stage. USPTO is currently only looking for information on how to do this. This is the time for the government information/transparency communities to submit ideas for how the USPTO could make their patent information available *without* giving it away to vendors. Please contact the USPTO at the addresses below and give them ideas for making their data open, standardized and freely available in bulk.
Thursday, 24 September 2009
9:00 a.m. -11:00 a.m.
USPTO Campus in the Madison Auditorium
600 Dulany Street
Alexandria, VA, 22314
Contracting Office Address:
P. O. Box 1450 - Mail Stop 6
600 Dulany Street, MDE, 7th Floor
Alexandria, Virginia 22313-1450
Primary Point of Contact.:
Secondary Point of Contact:
V. Anne Tugbang,
Letter to John B. Owens, II, September 15, 2009
Carl Malamud (from public.resource.org) gave what was generally agreed was a rousing talk at Gov2.0 Summit this morning. The talk was entitled "By the people..." Please go to his site to access the pamphlet he created (and order it for your library!) and a live pre-recording of the address. I promise it'll be worth it!
Yesterday Library Journal published its annual list of notable government documents, "Looking Back, Moving On: 2008 Best Notable Government Documents" written by Jim Church and his team of selectors and judges on the Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) Notable Documents Panel. Every year since 1983, the panel has pulled together and highlighted state/local, federal and international government documents in order to "promote awareness and acquisition of government publications by libraries and use by library patrons."
This year's list highlighted such publications as Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports as well as free statistical databases from the United Nations (UNdata), the European Union (Eurostat) and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAOStat). Plus there was a special shout out to Carl Malamud and his Yes We Scan! campaign for Public Printer of the Government Printing Office. Check out this year's list of notable documents. You'll be amazed at the depth and breadth of publications by the various levels of governments. And by all means, if you have a favorite government document that you'd like to highlight, the Panel is always interested in nominations!
(Full disclosure: I'm the chair this year of GODORT's Publications Committee, which oversees the work of the Notable Documents Panel.)
Technemag.com just published "Techné Interviews Public Printer Candidate Carl Malamud". The interview focuses on online access to government information, of course, but I found this portion of the interview enlightening:
Techné: It seems that many of your proposals for the GPO can be put together under the headings of ‘increasing transparency’ and ‘updating the system for the 21st century.’ A great deal of both of these will involve the use of the internet and other new media platforms. How much printing do you envision as part of the GPO in the middle to long term? Is the title of ‘Public Printer’ any longer an accurate one—or would Chief Information Officer be more fitting?
Malamud: Publisher would be better than CIO. I’m a strong believe that there is a role, and will continue to be a role, for print. You’ll note in some of my proposals I’ve suggested that moving towards the “high end” is a way to continue to maintain jobs at GPO, which has some of the best printers and craftsmen in the world. Some things, such as “commodity printing” may go online or may get distributed, but remember that of the $1 billion in print business GPO does, about $800 million of that is already farmed out to private industry.
On 02.24.2009, FGI "wholeheartedly and without reservation" endorsed the YES WE SCAN campaign of Carl Malamud for Public Printer of the United States. Mother Jones unequivocally endorsed Malamud one week later: "President Obama, Appoint Carl Malamud!" (Jonathan Stein | Mon March 2, 2009):
"Carl Malamud is a badass. If you are a techie or a transparency geek, you probably already know who he is. If you've never heard of him, he is an internet pioneer who has worked for decades, at times using renegade means, to make government information public. He fought to make the information in the SEC's "EDGAR" database free and public (which it now is) and is currently leading a similar fight over the court records database PACER. Today, Malamud has another campaign. He wants to become the Public Printer of the United States, i.e. the head of the Government Printing Office (GPO)..."
The Lede Blog, NYTimes.com, looks at Malamud's campaign in "Yes He Scan" (03.04.2009): "To show that he’s the people’s choice, Mr. Malamud is asking for support in the form of links to his site. So far he says he’s got more than 700 endorsements, like these tweets, and this blog post by Lawrence Lessig, which says, in part:
'I can’t imagine a more exciting appointment. Sometimes an agency needs STASIS. Sometimes it needs CHANGE. Gov’t tech is certainly in the second category, and no one I know of could more effectively deliver on the commitment to open government than he.'" [Lessig Blog | 02.27.2009]
Yes we scan! Carl Malamud, great good friend to govt documents librarians and to the public domain, wants to be the next Public Printer of the United States. He takes as his guides in this pursuit former public printers Augustus E. "Gus" Giegengack and Ben Franklin. His inspiration to public service and his stated plan (below) will have a great and prolonged positive effect on libraries, the Government Printing Office (GPO), government transparency, and access to and preservation of govt information. It is for these reasons that FGI wholeheartedly and without reservation endorses Carl Malamud for Public Printer of the United States.
Please allow me to highlight a few of the items that I think we all need to pay attention to, and I invite you to contact me so we can continue to talk about these issues. Publication is a two-way street, and I hope this is the beginning of a long-term dialogue about the public domain and how the United States of America presents itself to the world:
1. America's Operating System. The Government Printing Office serves all 3 branches of government and prints the Official Journals of Government. GPO should lead the effort to make all primary legal materials produced by the U.S. readily available.
2. Librarians. Librarians are the bedrock of the public domain and the defenders of our fundamental right to access knowledge. GPO should work even more closely with our libraries and reform the Federal Depository Library Program to support them better.
3. Jobs. As commodity printing goes the way of the PDF file and the copy machine, GPO must retrain and refocus its workforce, working with the unions and the employees so we may face the challenges of the future. If nominated and confirmed, I would work to establish a United States Publishing Academy, reviving the grand tradition of GPO being in the lead for workforce development, vocational training for students, and educating the rest of the U.S. government on how to print and publish effectively.
4. Security. GPO produces passports and other secure documents. The current design for passports uses an RFID chip, which means that an American can be picked out of a crowd merely by having a passport in their pocket. If nominated and confirmed, I would ask security expert Bruce Schneier to form a Blue-Ribbon Commission to reexamine the design of passports and other secure documents so we can better protect the privacy and security of all Americans.
5. Jobs. The GPO workforce includes some of the best master printers, bookbinders, and other professionals of the publishing profession. With our cultural institutions, writers and other artists, and using the historical archives of the United States, the GPO should create more materials for the public domain, both as fully produced books as well as freely available master files for others to use and remix.
6. Rebooting .Gov. There is no reason why the U.S. Government should not be one of the top 10 destinations on the Internet! GPO should work with the rest of the U.S. Government to radically change how we present information on the Internet. Some of the initiatives would include installing a cloud for .gov to use, enshrining principles of bulk data distribution into legislation, and a massive upgrade in the government's video capabilities.
7. Full Transparency. GPO serves all 3 branches of government. As the nation's service bureau, GPO must be fully transparent in its own financial affairs and should be a forceful and effective advocate for the public domain. Most importantly, the GPO must be fully transparent to its clients—the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary. If nominated and confirmed, I would pledge to serve on the front lines of customer service, working to understand the needs of our clients and the public.
Since Daniel mentioned yesterday about LOCKSS and digital deposit as recession insurance (which BTW is a GREAT oogly hook for open govt!!) I thought I'd mention a hot new article that Daniel and I wrote for the February 2009 issue of Against the Grain about the new U.S. Government Documents Private LOCKSS Network (citation below). The issue has not officially been released, but we got permission to post to FGI as a preprint.
The article describes the LOCKSS model of digital preservation and why that model is beneficial to apply to the realm of digital government information. We describe Carl Malamud's herculean efforts toward better access to government information; Then talk more specifically about the new USDOCS Private LOCKSS Network (USDocsPLN) using those documents harvested by Malamud. The paper concludes with a call to action.
Let us know what you think. and by all means, help us move forward with the USDocs network by participating. LOCKSS is great recession insurance and SO much more!
Citation: Distributed Globally, Collected Locally: LOCKSS for Digital Government Information. Daniel Cornwall and James R. Jacobs. Against the Grain, 21(1) February, 2009. p.42-44 (p.5-7 of the PDF)
The preservation of federal documents is too important to be left to the federal government alone; we have the makings of a viable system to preserve digital government publications. There are several ways you can help.
Join our private LOCKSS Network. Join the LOCKSS alliance, get a server for under $1,000, and contact us. The more servers in the USDocsPLN, the merrier.
Notify us of collections of electronic federal documents. LOCKSS staff can show you how easy it is to allow LOCKSS to ingest and preserve your materials.
Attack the root problem. Demanding your Members of Congress legislate and FUND a system that will ensure that GPO proactively deposits publications and data through the FDLP and other interested partners. While the USDocsPLN project is a good start and an excellent ad-hoc effort, it should be the government's responsibility to put information in the hands of taxpayers. We should not have to be prying it out of the government’s hands. A distributed digital FDLP benefits everyone.
Tapping back into the "raw power" theme, I just read the New York Times article on Carl Malamud mentioned here by Jim Jacobs. I found the article curious for the simple reason that it equates "free" access to massive amounts of court records with power, and a good form of power, or what he calls the "operating system for democracy." Though this kind of rhetoric sparks the necessary energy to get people to leave their couches and join the open government brigade at the barricade, I think it also paints a too simplistic picture of the complex arrangement of constitutional and legal traditions that favor a highly evolved civic engagement.
Missing from the newspaper article's description of what happened to the PACER pilot project and its sudden suspension is the more messy aspects of democracy that try to balance privacy with open access, free access with the necessary infrastructure (that requires money and personnel to function) to sustain long-term availability of "raw data." This balancing act depends on a series of relationships between the courts, users, the GPO and its depository libraries. Simply downloading millions of pages, as one person did in California is not a relationship, it is simply a power surge that may or may not be made useful by people on the information grid.
However, as the article points out, Malamud does demand some level of privacy protection in these court documents, he puts that responsibility squarely back on the shoulders of the courts by pointing out that is the court's duty, and heavy lifting, to make sure this private information is not made publicly available.
What I would expect to see, if indeed Malamud is interested in becoming a future Public Printer is less focus on the power aspects of the information grid, and more focus on the redistribution stations necessary to make government information understandable, accessible, and sustainable over long periods of time. Libraries have done this for several millennium, and they will continue to do so with the different technologies now being deployed. It isn't a race to see who can make the most government information available. It should be a long engaged relationship between those in power and those the power serves to assure that the knowledge, information and necessary data are understood and usable by the citizen. Power without breakers or distribution centers only overwhelms, it does not inform.