Monday, June 25, 2007

Lloyd Huck Tries to Undo Graham's Damage.

Today JamieB at points us to a letter to the Harrisburg Patriot News written by Lloyd Huck, former chair of the Penn State Board of Trustees, University benefactor, and retired CEO of Merck Pharmaceuticals, which concerns the extension of Pennsylvania's Right-To-Know law to state-related universities. Its conciliatory tone is in marked contrast to Graham's hostile performance of three weeks ago. Here is the letter in its entirety.

I wish to comment on two issues regarding discussions on extending the right to know legislation to state-related institutions, specifically the Pennsylvania State University.

I'm an emeritus trustee of Penn State and a retired board chairman of Merck, Co., Inc.

Because of my philanthropy to Penn State and my experience with intellectual property issues, I am concerned about the impact of requiring Penn State to make public information on these matters.

Some donors may be reluctant to make major gifts to Penn State, or to other institutions, if their gifts are made public. I believe they should have the right to keep these gifts confidential if they so wish. Any extension of the
right to know legislation should protect this right.

The first purpose of patents is to protect the rights of the inventor. The second purpose is to make the patent
public to enable further research, which is in the best interest of the public. If information on the research is made public before the patent issues, the inventor is
injured and will prefer to keep his work confidential rather than pursuing a patent, which eventually becomes public.

I am a strong supporter of transparency on the part of public institutions. I believe that Penn State makes available all information important for the public to know. But, legislators should be careful not to trample the rights of privacy in these two areas.

Lloyd does his best here to tone things down. He makes it appear that he's in general agreement with the idea of letting the sunshine in at Old Main. He really only has two concerns, donor privacy and patent disclosures. But other than that, lets open the windows wide. A close reading of the letter, however, shows that this is far from the case. Sure he's a strong supporter of transparency on the part of public institutions, but keep reading. In the very next sentence he tells us that Penn State makes available all information important for the public to know. We should be clear that he is in favor of the status quo. He hasn't given any ground. Lloyd is just a little slicker than Graham.

While I am talking about slick, I should note that he's got his facts on patents backwards. The US Constitution is the basis for all patent law in this country. It addresses the concept of patents in Article One, Section 8, clause 8.

Congress shall have power ... to promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

There is not a a word about the privacy of the inventor. The purpose of the patent system is to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. The patent system is set up as a public, not a private, good, just as Penn State is supposed to be for the public, not the private, good. Of course, it is of no surprise that a corporate fat cat wouldn't see it that way.

I've been following Old Main for quite sometime. It would behoove those interested in getting Right-To-Know legislation passed which covers state-related universities not to let their guard down because some sweet talker tells you how much he loves transparency on the part of public institutions.

The Patriot New carried a second letter about Penn State and the new Right-To-Know legislation the day that it published Lloyd's letter, but JamieB didn't link to it. It actually was a much better letter. I will close this post with it.

Penn State President Graham Spanier offered a very humorous commentary (June 10) on right-to-know legislation as it impacts Penn State, Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincol University.

He has a point. The legislation should address every university and college in the state, not just the four selected.

And, with the force of his arguments, I sense a great second career at PHEAA once he finishes holding down tuition and hiding public information at Penn State.

-- AL PETERLIN, Hampden Twp.

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