Chapter 18. Open Source Biology

Andrew Hessel

Open source software (OSS) has played a central role in the growth of the Internet and increases in economic importance each year. It has rapidly changed the face of computing, with server side companies like Sun Microsystems, to end-user companies such as Adobe, to full platform/service companies like IBM incorporating open source into their offerings. With this success, open source is poised to diversify its influence. One experiment is open source biology (OSB), the idea that biological products such as drugs, vaccines, or pest-resistant crops, can be developed using open intellectual property (IP) models.

Academic science, like open source, supports the belief that knowledge evolves best when ideas, data, and methods are freely shared, and each contributor can build on the works of others. Universities have housed and promoted scientific thought for more than 1,000 years, creating a public commons. In contrast, alchemy is the forerunner of modern business. Today, with academic research a valuable economic good, weighing the societal benefits of freeing or protecting IP is a pressing challenge. In no scientific discipline is this more important than biology, central to all living things.

Commercial biotechnology was founded on the premise that strong IP protection was necessary. However, after nearly three decades, a sustainable industry has not yet been achieved. Public mistrust of the genetic technology persists. Now, with biology ...

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