[R] Re: diamond graphs

Ross Ihaka ihaka at stat.auckland.ac.nz
Wed Aug 27 23:46:40 CEST 2003

Alvaro Muñoz wrote:
> Drs. Harrell and O'Keefe,

> Although it is at odds with your beliefs, University staff working on
> licensing and technology transfer believe that a patent may be a vehicle to
> achieve a wide use. The audience of the proposed methods would be the end
> users who are not sophisticated programmers and, therefore, the hope is that
> it would be available in widely used software which is not the case of the
> high end software (e.g., R). The proposed graph of 2D equiponderant display
> of two predictors is just a display procedure, not an inferential tool. The
> sophisticated analyst has little or no need for the proposed method. It does
> overcome the pitfalls of 3D bar graphs and, therefore, has the potential of
> improving the way we communicate our findings. Needless to say, were the
> predictions of Dr. Harrell to be on target, we will change course as the
> staff working on the licensing have planned from the start.

Perhaps I can add some personal experience, as opposed to "belief".
After Robert Gentleman and I had made some initial progress in 
implementing R, we had to make some decisions about what we would do 
with it.  We looked at a number of options ranging from "something 
commercial" to "free software".  After some research, personal 
introspection and prompting from others (hi Martin :-) we decided to 
release under GPL.

For me personally this turned out to be far harder than I thought it 
would be.  My institution has a particularly diabolical policy on 
intellectual property, especially on software.  While we could have 
quietly released the software and just said "oops" later on, I chose to 
get approval for free release of my work.  This took a number of years, 
several threats of resignation and a couple of salary cuts.

The reason I mention this is not as a part of a personal campaign for 
sainthood, but rather because it has utimately turned out to have been 
far more than worth the effort.  The effect of making R free has been 
see it picked up and vastly improved and extended by a very talented 
group of researchers.  We've now reached a point which Robert and I and 
other early R adopters and contributors couldn't have anticipated in our 
wildest imaginings. It's truly amazing to see this software being used 
for all sorts of cool things.  What we are seeing represents the best of 
what being an academic is all about - the free exchange of ideas with 
researchers collaborating and building on each other's work.

On the other hand, I'm currently writing what will possibly become a 
book on visualization and graphics (publication mechanism uncertain). 
The techniques discussed in the book are implemented in a certain dialog 
of a particular computer language developed at Bell Labs.  I intend to 
include code libraries for all the graphical techniques discussed.  The 
fact that you have sought to patent your idea means that, whatever its 
merits, it's pointless for me to even mention it because I can't 
distribute code for it.

I'm sure the licensing gnomes at your institution have expounded on how 
patenting will help achieve wider use, but in reality they are simply 
thinking "revenue stream".   The likely real effect of of constraining 
access to your work in this way will be to have it sink into obscurity. 
Take it from one who's been there, the payoff from free dissemination is 
much higher.

Ross Ihaka                         Email:  ihaka at stat.auckland.ac.nz
Department of Statistics           Phone:  (64-9) 373-7599 x 85054
University of Auckland             Fax:    (64-9) 373-7018
Private Bag 92019, Auckland
New Zealand

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