Tag Archives: publicly funded research

“Agricultural Research Needs Better Intellectual Property Rules”

See news item recently published on the University of Guelph blog.  “Agricultural Research Needs Better Intellectual Property Rules.  Consumers and low-income farmers benefit from agricultural innovations

The article talks about the Review that took place of CAS-IP this year, chaired by Prof Helen Hambly from Guelph’s School of Environmental Design and Rural Development (SEDRD).

“We need a clear set of rules to guide public-private partnerships, to ensure the integrity of public research, and to enable innovation and communication of research results to benefit low-income countries,” says Hambly, chair of the review team for the CGIAR Central Advisory Service for Intellectual Property.

Updating intellectual property (IP) rules in global agricultural research will help various groups, she says. Poor farmers and consumers, for instance, look to the benefits of science and innovation to deal with the effects of climate change, growing poverty and rising food prices. “There’s a big risk that the world’s poor will be left behind…

..Better co-ordination of private research and publicly funded science is critical…”

You can view the report on the CAS-IP website “CAS-IP Review” – and it’s not too late to comment either.  We have an open consultation until the end of the year on issues the review raises for IP in ag dev.  Either follow the links to the comment board, or email k.chapman@cgiar.org directly.

Data sharing in Alzheimer research

A NYTimes article last month (thanks for sending me the link Victoria) talked about a data sharing project on research into biological markers for Alzheimer’s disease progression.  “Rare Sharing of Data Leads to Progress on Alzheimer’s

The project committed to making all data and all findings public immediately – available online to anyone, anywhere.  The item said:

“No one would own the data. No one could submit patent applications, though private companies would ultimately profit from any drugs or imaging tests developed as a result of the effort.”

Some of the challenges this caused came from with the discomfort the scientists felt at working in this way.  Quoting Dr. John Q. Trojanowski, an Alzheimer’s researcher at the University of Pennsylvania the article said:

“It’s not science the way most of us have practiced it in our careers. But we all realized that we would never get biomarkers unless all of us parked our egos and intellectual-property noses outside the door and agreed that all of our data would be public immediately.”

For all the reasons we are already familiar with there was concern:

“At first, the collaboration struck many scientists as worrisome — they would be giving up ownership of data, and anyone could use it, publish papers, maybe even misinterpret it and publish information that was wrong… But Alzheimer’s researchers and drug companies realized they had little choice.”

I would be interested to know the process adapted to work through these understandable concerns.  The article hints that perhaps the community came to a point where they realized they had to bite the bullet in order to progress… sounds like a good motivator but there must be more to the story than that.  Additionally many of the comments that accompany this article struck me that we have a long way to go to understand ways to fit data sharing and open access into public research.  Simplistic calls for abolition of intellectual property miss the mark somewhat!

IPRs & research for the public good

As I have quoted in the past; Victoria Henson-Apollonio once said:

“think of IP as a tool, like a hammer you can use it to knock a nail into a piece of wood, or you can smash a window..!”

I was reminded of these words reading a piece printed in the Guardian entitled “The Shackling of Science: ownership rights pose real danger to scientific progress for public good”.

The final paragraph of the article points to:

The Manchester Manifesto, produced by an interdisciplinary and international group of experts … explores these problems and points the way to future solutions that will more effectively protect science, innovation and the public good. It calls on all interested parties to find better ways of delivering the fruits of science where they are most needed.”

The commercial gains cited as a large part of the problem are probably evidence enough IPRs aren’t going away anytime soon.  Therefore a prudent action would be to make sure public sector institutions become more savvy when managing their own intellectual property, especially when dealing with the private sector.  That way efforts can be made to ensure public sector research outputs remain available.  There are examples of positive application of the IP tool, but they aren’t going to make headlines in the same way as the negative ones…

The hot potato of public access in the face of commercialisation

  “A Better Pencil” – Inside Higher Ed

An article about the changes both real and feared, that the electronic age might have on the way we communicate.  It is based around an interview with the writer of a book on the subject, Dennis Baron.

The interview touched on the subject of the Google Books project.
Baron said:

“First, I think it’s great to digitize as much nondigital text as possible… What I don’t like is that Google is poised to monopolize text. No one entity should have that kind of power over the word…  The sorts of operations that Google…represent are important to how we use computers, and they make a vital contribution to our economy. But while they have been important in shaping our literacy practices, they should not get to dictate them.”

This debate is fascinating.  A similar argument surrounds the commercialisation of publicly funded research in agriculture and there is a danger that we oversimplify the debate.  There is not a YES/NO answer to this issue, and the dynamics are intricate.  Free doesn’t constitute uptake and use,  but private raises another new set of considerations regarding control.  The argument for continued adequate public funding of research for sustainable agriculture to ensure food availability and empower farmers must be made in a way that is clear to every government.  Otherwise will we encourage a Google®-type organisation to hold rights for all improved seed in the future?

In fact Baron goes on to say:

“Not only does Google intend to profit from this kind of control (it answers to its stockholders, not to the public), it would have the power to manipulate the text under its control, deciding who can and cannot see it, what can be displayed, what can be erased.”

And that is an important point.  If rights are signed over completely then with them go all safeguards.  But we need to find a way to strike a balance between allowing commercialisation (where distribution of a product might not otherwise happen),  whilst not loosing sight of the ethos of public goods.  And finding that balance is not easy…. 

As guardians of public goods we have a huge responsibility to make those goods accessible.  We cannot be academically against initiatives like Google Books without actively addressing why it is there is a demand for this private service.  Public goods are doing no good at all if they sit hidden in a closed repository, or if they are transferred to 3rd parties without an obligation to disseminate results to those who need them.

Open Access Advocacy Checklist


The lead link today was found on a comment left on the Peter Suber blog.  It is a checklist written by Alma Swan for TICER 2009.   It is concise and informative.

If you are trying to improve OA in your institute — read it!!

“Fair” copyright and publicly funded research

http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/04/28/pm_copyright/ The National Institutes of Health launched a web based open access program to make government funded medical research available to the public free of charge. Now medical publishers are challenging this policy.  This radio news items expands on these thorny copyright and public goods issues.

“Publicly funded research doesn’t seem so public when the public has to pay to read the results in a journal. A proposed law would help publishing companies preserve their business models, but it would limit public access to the research.”

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP