Who owns that offshore sucking sound?

Accenture gets a patent for a "rapid transfer of knowledge" technique. Don't expect rich country workers to applaud

Published February 22, 2008 6:35PM (EST)

Techdirt brings us the news that in January, the U.S. Patent Office granted a patent to two scientists who work for the consulting firm Accenture for "rapid knowledge transfer among workers."

Specifically, transferring knowledge from "experts" in one location to "apprentices" in another, via a Web-based set of templates. As the patent reads: "One application is a system for transferring knowledge in the context of outsourcing job functions of workers."

So, no more of that icky hands-on training of the foreign worker who will then perform your job for a fraction of your wages -- a "level of personal interaction [that] has proved to be very costly." Now, it can all be done online, for a fraction of the cost.

The guts of the system:

A knowledge transfer system for transferring knowledge from expert workers at a client location to apprentice workers at an outsourcing location, the knowledge transfer system comprising: a memory system configured to store a Knowledge Transfer Plan that defines knowledge and tasks that need to be transferred from the expert workers to the apprentice workers; program code and associated data defining role-specific portals for individual expert workers and apprentice workers, the program code configured to access the memory system for storage and retrieval of data associated with the role-specific portals; program code defining one or more collaboration systems for two-way communication between individual expert workers and individual apprentice workers; a multi-media knowledge repository configured to store work objects created by the expert workers and the apprentice workers during the knowledge transfer process; portal page creation code responsive to predetermined Knowledge Transfer Plan data for configuring the program code and the associated data defining role-specific portals; program code defining a wizard system operative to lead a user of the knowledge transfer system through processes of creating or updating the Knowledge Transfer Plan; and monitoring and tracking code which monitors progress of individual apprentice workers in fulfilling assigned tasks.

What all that gobbledy-gook boils down to as an attempt to automate the process of taking knowhow that resides in one person's head and transferring it to another who just happens to be located in, to use the examples cited in the patent, a country such as India, the Philippines, or China. Like far too many patents, the language is impossibly broad -- there are doubtless thousands of companies that already employ some form of collaboration software that would fit under the parameters described by the Accenture patent.

And no matter how you feel about outsourcing -- as a betrayal of developed nation workers or an opportunity for citizens of developing nations to pull themselves up -- there is a distinctly distasteful aspect to this attempt to regularize and own such a scheme for transferring knowledge. It almost feels like a perversion of the Internet. The Internet, of course, is the greatest mechanism for rapid transfer of knowledge from one brain to another ever invented. And as has been widely remarked, the emergence of this global network of interlinked computers has facilitated the spread of outsourcing and offshoring. Without the Internet, India would not be part of Silicon Valley's business plan.

Anyone, anywhere in the world, who has access to the Internet benefits from the vast resources that have been made freely available to us all. Yet at the same time, for many workers, especially in the developed world, the advances of information technology have wrought an ever-more competitive landscape. In the Accenture patent for "rapid transfer of knowledge" one sees only the increasing competitive forces, without the freedom.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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