Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

More on open-source biology

Arti K. Rai, Open and Collaborative Research: A New Model for Biomedicine, a preprint forthcoming in Robert Hahn (ed.), Intellectual Property Rights in Frontier Industries: Software and Biotech, AEI-Brookings Press. (Thanks to David Bollier.)
Abstract: The advent of open source software has prompted some theoretical speculation about the applicability of open source production principles to biomedical research. This paper moves beyond theoretical analysis into an empirical examination of biomedical research projects that operate under what might be called an open and collaborative model. Open and collaborative projects represent a fresh approach to biomedicine in that they not only disavow its exclusionary behavior but they also reject its small-lab based structure. The paper argues that open and collaborative biomedical research represents a promising experiment. Not only has it produced software and genomic data that is usable, but the resulting public domain status for this software and data may reduce access and transaction cost problems for follow-on innovators. The model's least intuitive, but most exciting, application may involve wet lab systems biology: in this context, the model may allow a more coordinated and comprehensive attack than has heretofore been possible on the sorts of problems that cause promising drug candidates, particularly for complex diseases, to fail. Open and collaborative biomedical research does diverge, however, from non-biomedical open source production. Particularly outside the area of software, open and collaborative biomedicine may require restrictions on participation; significant centralization and standardization; reliance on public funding; and limitations on use of copyleft licensing. Additionally, if the model is to gain significant traction, practical problems involving the division of consulting revenues between scientists and universities as well as inefficient biological science publication norms will have to be addressed.