April 30, 2005


A few weeks ago I would not have recognised the word “Webinar” (I suppose I have to admit that it is a word) but now it is part of SCL life. For those of you who have slept through this particular development, a Webinar is a meeting, seminar or workshop which can be “attended” via the Internet, either by logging on and watching the event as it unfolds or by asynchronous attendance (ie watching it when suits you). SCL held its first in April (see Laurie Kaye’s report on p 4).

The move to make popular meetings available to a wider audience, which may confuse the varied definitions of networking at SCL meetings, is laudable in itself. It recognises SCL’s essential educational role and will I think come to be widely valued among the membership, especially those who find meetings in Central London (the understandable centre for many outstanding events) difficult to attend. The first experiment, which it was good to see recognised and reported in The Times earlier this month, was so successful that it was rapidly followed by a second and a third is already planned for 19 May. The events covered by the Webinars, which dealt or will deal with topics such as outsourcing, freedom of information and the public sector and IT procurement, had one thing in common – they were all sold out. But I would hope that that will not be seen as a pre-requisite for Webinar status. Although the coverage on the Web, which is of excellent quality, is expensive, it has the potential to widen SCL’s appeal and we may find an increasing level of interest in such events from overseas. As Laurie Kaye suggests, there is room for improvement in the level of involvement of those watching live across the Web – and SCL will certainly take account of the points he makes – but, despite the fact that the olfactory senses are not well served by the Internet, all those involved in this initiative can surely enjoy the sweet smell of success. I salute them and offer a drink at my cyberbar.


Of course, my mention of success should not only apply to the Webinars. The fact that the events concerned were full points to a different kind of success, and perhaps an even more important one. SCL is an educational charity but I always thought that it had the distinct disadvantage that many of its members know it all (not you obviously – or at least only in the nicest possible way). It seems I was wrong to think that because the recent selection of topics for coverage, whether at workshop, seminar or masterclass, has revealed an SCL membership thirsting for knowledge.

It is not easy to run an event and put your reputation on the line when choosing topic and level. If you get it right you deserve proper rewards. Since the SCL Trustees, members and staff concerned in producing the latest run of course get no obvious rewards, it would seem churlish not to acknowledge their efforts here.

Computer Patents

There is a limit to the number of words I can devote to praising those who pay my cheques. I would like to close by confessing to a real confusion.

Recent moves to allow computer implemented inventions are said to be stalling in the European Parliament. There is a fierce debate touching on many aspects of the issue, including the effect that patents might have in restricting innovation and the threat that smaller businesses suffer by virtue of being unable to protect their developments adequately. My confusion, having read a number of pieces about this, is that I cannot really see how the virtues of patent protection, or indeed its vices, are different in the context of computers. The patent system is usually what seems to me to be under attack or being defended when the idea of patent protection for computer programs is raised. I would like to be enlightened. I am certainly interested in hosting a debate in these pages if you, our readers and greatest writing resource, would like to contribute to one.