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Research Not Slowed By Intellectual Property Protections, AAAS Surveys Find
Scientific research has not been hindered significantly by a recent proliferation of technology patents and licensing agreements, according to four groundbreaking international surveys completed by AAAS's Science and Intellectual Property in the Public Interest (SIPPI) project.
Some experts have feared that a rise in intellectual property (IP) protections could stifle discovery because the protections would bar too many scientists from using IP research tools. But in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, tools from software to genetically modified organisms "remain relatively accessible to the broad scientific community," according to the reports.
"While it was not possible to do direct, country to country comparisons, all four studies suggest that intellectual property rights had little negative impact on the practice of science," said Stephen Hansen, SIPPI project manager.
SIPPI's surveys offer a unique glimpse of how IP protections affect the day-to-day work of scientists, said Hansen. "It is interesting that we rarely, if ever, hear from the researchers themselves about these issues. The issues have been brought to public attention instead by academic lawyers, sociologists and economists," he noted.
For the most part, academic scientists in all four countries were able to acquire research tools quickly, usually within a month or so, with the help of informal sharing, nonexclusive licensing and material transfer agreements. These IP protections place fewer restrictions on a tool's use than exclusive licensing, which restricts "ownership" of a tool to one researcher or company.
Industry scientists, particularly in the United States, reported using more exclusive licensing—and enduring longer waits of six months or more—to obtain research tools. However, few scientists in either academia or industry said that the delays or other problems with IP materials caused them to abandon research projects entirely.
Intellectual property law has changed significantly in all of the countries over the past two decades, with universities in the United States and Germany now able to file patents on their employees' discoveries and Japanese technology firms looking for protections in an increasingly competitive global market.
However, when the SIPPI surveys asked scientists "about whether or not they felt more licensing was necessary now than five years ago, the majority of the respondents said they felt it was about the same," Hansen said.
Researchers surveyed in the U.S., U.K. and Germany also report few troubles obtaining copyright protected articles in scientific journals, saying that access to scientific literature has become easier over the past three years. However, nearly 20 percent of those surveyed in the Japan study said they had difficulties sharing their own published work due to these copyright restrictions. And while the scientists say they are using more research from the "open access" literature such as the Public Library of Science journals, which do not require authors to give up their copyright, less than 10 percent of researchers in the four countries have published their own work in an open-access journal.
SIPPI conducted the surveys in 2006 and 2007 with the help of scientific professional societies in all four countries. In the United States, 2,157 AAAS members completed the survey. There were 804 survey participants in the United Kingdom, 967 participants in Germany, and 1,267 participants in Japan. SIPPI and Japan's Institute for Future Technology hosted a public symposium on the four surveys on 19 March in Tokyo.
29 May 2007