Open Science: Open Source Licenses in Scientific Research

June 16, 2012

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the area of open source software (“OSS”) as an alternative economic model. However, the success of the OSS mindshare and collaborative online experience has wider implications to many other fields of human endeavor than the mere licensing of computer programmes. There are a growing number of institutions interested in using OSS licensing schemes to distribute creative works and scientific research, and even to publish online journals through open access (“OA”) licenses. There appears to be growing concern in the scientific community about the trend to fence and protect scientific research through intellectual property, particularly by the abuse of patent applications for biotechnology research. The OSS experience represents a successful model which demonstrates that IP licenses could eventually be used to protect against the misuse and misappropriation of basic scientific research. This would be done by translating existing OSS licenses to protect scientific research. Some efforts are already paying dividends in areas such as scientific publishing, evidenced by the growing number of OA journals. However, the process of translating software licenses to areas other than publishing has been more difficult. OSS and OA licenses work best with works subject to copyright protection because copyright subsists in an original work as soon as it is created. However, it has been more difficult to generate a license that covers patented works because patents are only awarded through a lengthy application and registration process. If the open science experiment is to work, it needs the intervention of the legal community to draft new licenses that may apply to scientific research. This article will look at the issue of such OA licenses, paying special care as to how the system can best be exported to scientific research based on OSS and OA ideals.