Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Not letting patents obstruct scientific sharing

Gerry Toomey, Sharing the fruits of science, University Affairs, August/September 2007.  Excerpt:

...We...know that the social behaviour of modern science, and of the broader domain of innovation, is marked by a continual tug-of-war. At one end of the rope we find the forces of collaboration and sharing. At the other end are the instincts to compete and to protect one’s hard-earned intellectual property. While both kinds of behaviour lubricate scientific discovery and technological innovation, IP protection via patenting, with a view to future profits, has become a dominant trend in recent decades, particularly in the life sciences.

But now an international scientific counterculture is emerging. Often referred to as “open science,” this growing movement proposes that we err on the side of collaboration and sharing. That’s especially true when it comes to creating and using the basic scientific tools needed both for downstream innovation and for solving broader human problems.

Open science proposes changing the culture without destroying the creative tension between the two ends of the science-for-innovation rope. And it predicts that the payoff – to human knowledge and to the economies of knowledge-intensive countries like Canada – will be much greater than any loss, by leveraging knowledge to everyone’s benefit....

“The reason we talk about open source,” explains Richard Jefferson, a California-born biotechnologist now living in Australia, “is because it was the first movement to embed in the creative process, in this instance software engineering, the permission not just to inspect inventions but to use them to create economic value. Open source imposes covenants of behaviour rather than financial agreements. Unrestricted use and the right to make a profit don’t usually get in bed together. In open source, they’ve done so quite productively.”

Dr. Jefferson is founder of an international research institute in Canberra called CAMBIA. He and his centre are among the most outspoken and active proponents of open science....