James will be presenting his research on self governance and user generated IP laws within open source bioinformatics communities at the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) XVI Biennial Conference in Utrecht, the Netherlands. This is an interdisciplinary conference focussing on the governance of common pool resources, including knowledge commons. Specifically, James will be looking at how formal and informal intellectual property laws interact in the formation of a commons for the exchange of scientific software.
The bioinformatics commons - why is open source and public domain licensing prevalent in computational biology?
Open source licensing has been heralded as a new way of engaging in software (and other forms of) innovation outside models based on exclusive patent and copyright rights. However, despite the promise of open source licensing to revolutionise computational scientific research, there is equivocal evidence as to the adoption of open source licensing practices in research. Nevertheless, one pocket of research where open source licensing remains the standard is computational biology and bioinformatics research.
This has been attributed to several factors. Firstly, more stringent patent eligibility standards and examination strategies may discourage would be patent holders from acquiring bioinformatics patents except for the most valuable of inventions. Secondly, economic uncertainty in genomic research may make patenting of research tools unfeasible. Thirdly, soft law instruments such as the Bermuda Principles, the Fort Lauderdale Agreement, the Amsterdam Agreement and the Toronto Agreement, as well as cultural norms within computational biology research, may encourage code and data sharing. The purpose of this conference paper is to ascertain why the bioinformatics commons exists, whether its existence is attributable to the aforementioned factors and whether there are any impediments to code sharing in the future that might undermine the bioinformatics commons.
To this end, a series of semi-structured interviews were conducted with researchers and licensing officers involved bioinformatics and systems biology. These semi-structured interviews illustrate the greatest impediments to source code disclosure, including intellectual property. Interviewees were drawn from those working at academic institutes, non-profit institutes and private public partnerships. Finally, these semi-structured interviews addressed the question of what were the greatest incentives to encourage source code sharing.
This study is important as scientific research is increasingly being conducted on a transnational basis with an increased reliance on computational technology. This research commons may be fragmented through inconsistencies between different intellectual property laws on a national basis. However, a strong research commons has emerged in bioinformatics, despite the importance of patent rights within biotechnological research. If the governmental principles from this bioinformatics commons can be translated to other areas of research, it may help research transcend the conflicts that have surrounded patent law and the transfer of scientific knowledge and assist in the development of new contractual instruments for the transfer of scientific knowledge, tools and data.