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Bill Aims to Prevent Public Records Requests for Scientific Research

A bill to be heard today (Feb. 10) before the Wisconsin state Assembly's education committee would keep scientific research from the public eye if it passes.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the bill is the second attempt by the University of Wisconsin to keep research records from all of its campuses under wraps until research is patented or published. The university said protecting such research from public records requests is necessary to ensure the school drives profitability in the state.

 “In order to fulfill our mission most effectively we need to be able to control the timing of release of information,” Bill Barker, director of the office of research policy at UW-Madison, told the State Journal. “The state of Wisconsin is lucky to have a V-12 Ferrari of an economic engine. It just needs a tune-up.”

 Another reason behind the push is the recent change to America’s patent laws. The America Invents Act of 2011 means that those who file a patent request first, regardless of whether they are the first to invent a product, have first crack at getting that patent. Barker told the State Journal that having UW’s research publicly available would give competitors a change to steal research findings and get patents on them first. However, he was unable to mention an example where the university had lost a patent because of a competitor making a public records request.

 “I can’t point to a specific case and I know that’s a flaw in my argument,” he said to the State Journal.

 One opponent of the bill wondered why the university needed such broad protection when current legislation already allows universities to reject requests for public records that they believe would be too damaging to their mission.

 “I don’t think it’s ever a good thing when someone seeks a blanket exemption,” Bill Lueders, president of the state’s Freedom of Information Council, told the State Journal Feb. 7. “That’s the troublesome thing about it. It’s inevitable that will lead to abuse.”

 Animal rights activists were concerned the bill would hide unethical practices, while UW responded that public records requests by such groups cost the university over $100,000 each year by slowing down research, another reason behind the bill.

 Despite those reservations, no formal registrations had been made to oppose the bill as of Feb. 7, according to the State Journal.

 -       with files from the Wisconsin State Journal