Small firms lack resources to make most of open access

SMEs need tools as well as content to pinpoint research ‘nuggets’, says Elsevier chief

February 27, 2014

Achieving the UK government’s goal of full open access to publicly funded research would not have the transformative effect on small business that ministers hope for, a representative of the world’s largest journal publisher has said.

David Mullen, Elsevier’s regional sales director of corporate markets in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, said that small companies lacked time to wade through journals and needed help to find the “nugget” of information they needed.

His remarks came in the wake of criticism of the restrictive usage terms of the scheme for free access to academic journals at public libraries launched by publishers earlier this month, known as Access to Research. In the press release for the launch of the scheme, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said that the scheme would “connect people, including students and small businesses, to a wealth of global knowledge – maximising its impact and value”.

Mr Willetts’ push for full open access, and his preference for open licences that permit commercial reuse, is partly driven by a hope that it will improve the capacity of small UK businesses to innovate and contribute to a knowledge economy.

However, the terms of use of the scheme expressly forbid the use of papers accessed through it for “commercial research”.

Asked by Times Higher Education about the discrepancy, Mr Willetts said that he had confused the scheme with the Gateway to Research portal launched by Research Councils UK before Christmas, which is aimed at providing businesses with information about research council-funded projects.

Meanwhile, Mr Mullen said that a pilot project Elsevier had carried out in the Netherlands several years ago, in which it opened its entire journal content to about a dozen small technology companies, had made little impact.

“A very small company [is unlikely to] toddle along to their local public library and spend half a day looking at a few articles,” he said. “They are busy people; they need to find the stuff they need and be able to get it instantly, just like they might reach out for a beaker or an instrument.”

In his view, the key was to provide companies with Elsevier’s entire set of tools for identifying useful research among its journals at an affordable price to help them quickly find the information they needed. He said Elsevier was running a project at two science parks in the first half of this year to examine whether such information was valuable.

“If the UK government is serious about investing in competitively developing its innovation sector to drive growth, then it absolutely needs to focus on providing [both] content and tools,” he said.

The terms and conditions of the Access to Research scheme, which is initially running as a two-year pilot, permit only one paper copy to be made of any papers.

Sarah Faulder, chief executive of the Publishers Licensing Society, said that the terms were consistent with the recommendation for such a scheme in the Finch report on open access.

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