IP protection 'doesn't slow research'

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Scientific research has not been hindered significantly by a recent proliferation of technology patents and licensing agreements. This is the conclusion from four 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. However, the surveys carried out in the USA, UK, Germany and Japan, found that tools from software to genetically modified organisms 'remain relatively accessible to the broad scientific community.'

'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. '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 pointed out.

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, non-exclusive licensing and material transfer agreements.

Industry scientists, particularly in the USA, 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.

Researchers surveyed in the USA, UK 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 per cent 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 open-access literature, less than 10 per cent 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 USA, 2,157 AAAS members completed the survey. There were 804 survey participants in the UK, 967 participants in Germany, and 1,267 participants in Japan.