[open-science] On no to patents and open source stats packages

Jenny Molloy jcmcoppice12 at gmail.com
Sat Feb 18 15:39:52 UTC 2017

Hi Heather (and all)

I'm working as a Coordinator of OpenPlant (http://openplant.org), where the
intention is to release any foundational plant genetic technologies and
'building blocks' of DNA free of patents. We are trying very hard to work
around third party IP in order to do so.
There is a long history of open source efforts in synthetic biology e.g.

In addition to creating more 'born open' resources we and collaborators are
interested in:

   - Highlighting off-patent technologies - the patents from the molecular
   biology explosion in the 1990s in the midst of the Human Genome Project and
   other efforts are coming to the end of their 20 year term and the next
   decade will see a massive growth in access to 'generic' biotechnology.
   Unfortunately, it's really hard to find the expiring patents so we'd like
   to publicise that they are now open technologies and look at what that
   actually means for supply chains and availability.
   - Tackling other forms IP in the form of contracts - even if a
   biological material has no associated patent rights the default is to
   distribute the physical material under a restrictive Material Transfer
   Agreement that does not allow commercial use or redistribution. The OpenMTA
   being developed by the Biobricks Foundation in collaboration with OpenPlant
   is one part of a solution to that: http://biobricks.org/openmta/

I think there are also great examples of exploring alternatives to
patenting of early stage research in open source drug discovery (
http://opensourcemalaria.org/), seeds (http://osseeds.org/) and more.

On the point of any sort of research that is patentable being exempt from
open data/open access. Patents (or the intention to patent) are obviously a
barrier to fast publication of results and publication of work in
progress/open notebooks/ real time data and other open science
practices. However, I don't think there is as much of a conflict as many
people I've spoken to perceive with 'standard' open access and open data
practices i.e. publishing both the paper and associated data, hopefully in
a useable format, under an open license. Most academics who are applying
for patents delay publication until the patent is filed but they do then
tend to publish (as required for their academic reputation) and a
disclosure is a public disclosure whether it's in an open access or
pay-walled journal. Making their research papers and data open access at
that point has little intersection with the patent or patentability of the
discovery that the paper is describing. There are exceptions and of course
the data could contain further insights that might lead to patentable
matter etc etc but that is also a common objection to open data in relation
to further academic publications.

On the other hand, open access to publications and data about techniques
and materials that you aren't able to use without express permission of the
inventor because they are patented and you aren't in a location with a a
strong research exception for patents (here's looking at you, USA, with an
exemption only applicable to "amusement, to satisfy idle curiosity, or for
strictly philosophical inquiry."
http://www.wipo.int/edocs/mdocs/patent_policy/en/scp_20/scp_20_4.pdf) could
be described as insufficient for a truly open scientific exchange.

I do believe in greater openness of inventions from publicly funded
research, particularly enabling technologies and tools. I also see massive
problems for people who try to get investment and push inventions out into
the world without IP protection. At a certain level it is better that
publicly funded research leads to discoveries that get out and are
available for the benefit of the public (at a cost) and generate positive
economic benefits for the people, institutions and countries involved than
that none of those things happen. The cost is key though and too many times
is too high to bring about the positive social impact that the patented
technology has potential to deliver (see many example in pharma and

I am interested in seeing experimentation within the current system and
also pushing to change the more exploitative and inequitable practices, but
I wouldn't characterise my current position as wanting to push against all
patents arising from publicly funded research. Interested to hear other
people's thoughts!


On Fri, Feb 10, 2017 at 6:06 PM, Heather Morrison <
Heather.Morrison at uottawa.ca> wrote:

> Here are a couple of open science thoughts for the day:
> Is anyone in the open science movement working to push against patents
> arising from publicly funded research? Open access / open data is not
> sufficient if any research that is patentable is exempt. Something along
> the lines of open source licensing would seem to be appropriate here.
> Open source statistical packages: isn't it about time that universities
> dropped the pricey SPSS and diverted some of the funding into open source
> statistical packages? This is an area where free open source software could
> do a lot for open research. SPSS is very expensive; I wonder how many
> universities and colleges even in the developed world have to limit access
> due to the price and terms.
> Personally I like PSPP.
> If universities were to divert money from SPSS subscriptions to open
> source, I wonder if some of the IBM stats experts might be interested in a
> switch to working for the university sector?
> best,
> --
> Dr. Heather Morrison
> Assistant Professor
> École des sciences de l'information / School of Information Studies
> University of Ottawa
> Desmarais 111-02
> 613-562-5800 ext. 7634 <(613)%20562-5800>
> Sustaining the Knowledge Commons: Open Access Scholarship
> http://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/
> http://www.sis.uottawa.ca/faculty/hmorrison.html
> Heather.Morrison at uottawa.ca
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