[okfn-advisory] fund-raising idea for OKF

Peter Suber peter.suber at gmail.com
Fri Dec 4 19:04:15 UTC 2009

At the end of our phone call yesterday, Rufus asked for fund-raising ideas.
 Here's an ambitious one that I didn't have time to spell out in the few
minutes remaining.  It's just as well that I've had to write it out.

A surprisingly large number of drug companies have taken small or large
steps toward providing open access to their research data.  Here's a blog
post from May in which I link to some of these steps,

(The primary news in that blog post is not about open access to pharma data;
only the links in the final paragraph are relevant.)

First, OKF could launch a project on the "pre-competitive sharing" of pharma
data.  It could collect info on the company initiatives already under way,
develop guidelines for other companies, and so on. This much seems very
compatible with the current OKF mission.  Call it Phase 1.

Then OKF could launch a membership organization, or membership branch of the
existing organization, to coordinate the different initiatives and work
toward the interoperability of the many different data sets.  Call this
Phase 2.

The rationale should be clear:  these companies have a lot of money; they
have their reasons for the pre-competitive sharing of data and we should
support that sharing even if we'd like to criticize the same companies for
failing to share at other stages of their research and development; their
individual initiatives are (as far as I know) uncoordinated and do not have
the synergy they would have if interoperable; and OKF could easily position
itself as a neutral party with expertise in data sharing and
interoperability.  My hunch is that all the companies would benefit from
making these data interoperable, would see that they would benefit, and
would be willing to pay OKF to make it happen.  I also suspect that as the
project moved forward, its benefits would attract other drug companies to

If this works, then Phase 3 would generalize the idea beyond the pharma
industry, and try to pry loose open datasets from other industries and make
them equally useful.

Perhaps as another part of Phase 1, OKF could launch a working group on open
access to industrial data.

John Wilbanks is on the board of an open data initiative launched by Merck
(Sage Bionetworks), and could be very helpful.


Peter Suber
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