With friends and colleagues in the industry I have been looking at formulating a debate to be held in November this year on the post-Brexit regulatory scenario for the information industry in the UK. I find myself in a quandary, and since it is the spirit of our age, I intend to share the problem with you, in search of therapy if not solutions.

First, some positioning confessional. I am a passionate European free trader. Left to myself, when the Great Repeal Act takes place after 2019, and all the existing regulation of the information marketplace is confirmed as part of the body of UK law, I would like to shut the book and leave it there. Furthermore, I believe that it is vital to facilitating free trade that regulatory regimes between trading nations are as equal as possible so that regulatory barriers and compliance requirements are diminished. In dear old EU days we called this “harmonisation”. I argue from this that if the EU, our largest trading partners, make further changes in their laws on intellectual property ownership or data protection, as examples, then we would do well to reflect those changes in our own legal infrastructure in order not to create fresh hurdles for those creating pan European information products and services. After all, would a sensibly organized European car industry deliberately introduce variable left or right hand drive regimes in one continent?

So my natural answer would be to the policy wonks and regulation nerds – leave everything alone! Yet I know that pressures will come from all sides of the commercial and political arena for post-Brexit change, and this will be quicker to effect in the unitary authority of the Disuited Kingdom than ever it was in the 28 nation veto-fest of the EU. And here are some of the “opportunities” for change that are currently in the wind for post Brexit debate:

1. COPYRIGHT   Copyright law in the UK bears all the marks of 43 years of EU membership. EU law is based firmly on the protection of creative acts and the recognition of the rights of creators to determine how their creativity is used. UK law had, pre-EU, moved strongly to protect the economic rights associated with creativity -“the sweat of the brow” – (lawyers – please forgive the level of generalisation!). Many of us lobbied hard and long and successfully to restore the balance with the little used Directive on the Legal Protection of Databases, which creates an ownership in the acts of collation and arrangement of data in a database, whether or not the data concerned where themselves wholly or partially protected by copyright. Others still seek a Publishers Right, akin to the rights enjoyed by record companies, which protects the act of getting the work published in the first place, distinct from any other rights enjoyed by authors. Obviously, plastic Brexit lobbying could see a stronger lurch in what is a very British direction.

2. DATA PRIVACY AND PROTECTION   Europe has one of the strongest data regulation regimes in the world. It centres on the privacy of personal data and is highly restrictive in terms of the accumulation and storage of data on people in marketing services and solutions. The signs from current proposals in Europe are that the regulatory burden on suppliers in this sector is likely to become more onerous rather than less. At the same time, the existing ways of equating data regimes across the Atlantic – from Safe Harbor to Privacy Shield are now themselves exhausted, and the UK will not be at the table when Europe and the USA next negotiate trade barriers in this increasingly vital area.

I still say “stay anchored to the trading blocs you depend upon and follow the European route”. And here is the other argument:

3. SCENARIO  Post Brexit suggests an opportunity for the UK to really grow its place in global information supply. Through tax breaks on data storage, data assembly and start-ups in the sector the UK could punch well above its weight IF it had

– a “sweat of the brow” copyright regime that fully protected acts of data assembly and service and solution creation.

– a safe harbor regime that allowed third party creation of data services using personal data offshore, with only the services and solutions, not the personal data, being capable of re-export to the countries from which the personal data derived.

– a protection regime like the Dublin financial services Freeport which defined the tax status of these operations.

– an English-language bias that turned the UK into a software and service development outsource, especially tuned to serving European customers as a route to global markets.

And there are wilder ideas – to quote a colleague “Why should Kazakstan have all the good tunes – we could be the offshore pirate radio of data services, hosting everything the world wants, including SciHub!”.

Enough! I am still in the free trader camp, but I invite any reader to post here ideas for post-Brexit – or better reasons than mine for staying where we are now.

Innovation happens when you recognize it, not when people invent something. Innovation is a state of mind, not a process of will. Innovation cannot be switched on or off like a light. Innovation is not about making things anew, and then making the new as unchangeable as the old it replaced. Innovation is about looking behind you to measure the tide and the speed of flow. Innovation is knowing when to leap in and swim boldly, knowing that stopping swimming means sinking. Innovation has nothing at all to do with the concept I find described everyday in information companies: “we need some younger managers in here to innovate, then we will take the best of their ideas and go with them”. “We have set up a group to go away and do innovation and then we will see if they come up with anything”. “Our innovators are very smart but have no idea of how important the cash cow is to the company and how important it is that we do not compete with ourselves, so we have taken up the best of their ideas and used them to freshen up the existing services”.

After weeks of working with companies that can talk change but not implement it the spirits can flag. But then, like last week I have a space when every door I push open seems to exude innovation. And it is not the perk of the young or the monopoly of garage dwellers in Southern California. Innovation spreads right across the age and gender divides. It is a cast of mind, almost a type of intelligence. Last week I met two real innovators, both of whom were deeply dissatisfied by the difficulty our industry, both information marketplaces and enterprises at large, have in handling change. I would guess they were 30 years apart in age, and their ideas of innovation were radically different, but both were temperamentally discontented by the thought of leaving the status quo unruffled.

Rather than embarrass the innovators who gave me such a filip, let me describe the innovations. E-Qual (http://www.e-qualcompetence.co.uk) is a competency environment. Created initially for the oil industry, it is a way of getting all the relevant information in one place in order to form judgements about whether employees have the background knowledge, the formal learning, the experience on the job, the continuing development activity and anything else they need to be judged as “competent”. In many ways, competency is the shoe that has not yet dropped in the compliance marketplace. Yet what is it about innovation that means that no one in forestry would look at what works in oil and gas, or no one in light engineering would look at how things are done in pharma. And the information players in vertical sectors are just as blinkered. Small wonder that innovation and scale are real problems.

The other innovation I encountered was Wizdom.ai, a child of the team that incubated Colwiz (www.wizdom.ai). Here we. Are in a whole sector – academic research and scholarly communication – but this is one with an almost theological loathing for “not invented here a look at this Claim” continuously updating with billions of data points. Gain powerful insights about the past, present and future with the most comprehensive knowledge graph covering the entire universe of research.

50K organizations

235 countries

2.7B facts

700M citations

289M concept mappings

$700B research funding

78M publications

50M authors

28M affiliations

60K journals

150TB data

Using cutting edge machine learning algorithms, wizdom.ai continuously generates analytics about the scientific developments that are the harbingers of our future world to progress research in the right direction, further and faster.”

A huge amount of data and some large claims, yet whatever happens here we should note that this is the first time someone has walked through the front door of the problem – finding what scholarship is best of breed, worth funding and most likely to have real impact – and said simply “let’s start by putting all the salient data in one place and then see what our best analytics can do”. While I am sure that in those analytics there is great innovation, the dramatic change here for me is a hallmark of innovation – simplicity of approach. The jury is out on whether, beyond its existing case studies and great graphics, this service will produce the insights claimed for it – but if it does it will comprehensively alter the field of vision of academics, funders, researchers in industry, publishers, and government. A big data solution in this sector at this point could be as influential as the foundation, by the truly innovative Eugene Garfield, of ISI and the impact factor. As I left their Oxford offices the most frequent thought in my head was “why hasn’t a publisher invested and acquired this yet!”

Which returns us to the beginning – no one recognises innovation until it has happened and is history – and too late.

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