Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Making data OA while blocking downstream enclosures

Chris Rusbridge, Open Data... Open Season?  Digital Curation Blog, July 16, 2007.  Excerpt:

Peter Murray Rust is an enthusiastic advocate of Open Data (the discussion runs right through his blog, this link is just to one of his articles that is close to the subject). I understand him to want to make science data openly accessible for scientific access and re-use. It sounds a pretty good thing! Are there significant downsides?

Mags McGinley recently posted in the DCC Blawg about the report "Building the Infrastructure for Data Access and Reuse in Collaborative Research" from the Australian OAK Law project….[B]uried in the middle of the report is a cautionary tale. Towards the end of chapter 4, there is a section on risks of open data in relation to patents, following on from experiences in the Human Genome and related projects.

"Claire Driscoll of the NIH describes the dilemma as follows:

It would be theoretically possible for an unscrupulous company or entity to add on a trivial amount of information to the published…data and then attempt to secure ‘parasitic’ patent claims such that all others would be prohibited from using the original public data."

(The reference given is Claire T Driscoll, ‘NIH data and resource sharing, data release and intellectual property policies for genomics community resource projects’ Expert Opin. Ther. Patents (2005) 15(1), 4)

The report goes on:

"Consequently, subsequent research projects relied on licensing methods in an attempt to restrict the development of intellectual property in downstream discoveries based on the disclosed data, rather than simply releasing the data into the public domain."
They then discuss the HapMap (International Haplotype) project, which attempted to make data available while restricting the possibilities for parasitic patenting [through a GPL-type license]….Checking HapMap, the Project's Data Release Policy describes the process, but the link to the Click-Wrap agreement says that the data is now open. See also the NIH press release). There were obvious problems, in that the data could not be incorporated into more open databases. The turning point for them seems to be:
"...advances led the consortium to conclude that the patterns of human genetic variation can readily be determined clearly enough from the primary genotype data to constitute prior art. Thus, in the view of the consortium, derivation of haplotypes and 'haplotype tag SNPs' from HapMap data should be considered obvious and thus not patentable. Therefore, the original reasons for imposing the licensing requirement no longer exist and the requirement can be dropped."
So, they don't say the threat does not exist from all such open data releases, but that it was mitigated in this case.

Are there other examples of these kinds of restrictions being imposed? Or of problems ensuing because they have not been imposed, and the data left open? (Note, I'm not at all advocating closed access!)