Fighting disease, combating hunger, preserving the balance of life on Earth: the future of biotechnological innovation may well be the future of our planet itself. And yet the vexed state of intellectual property law—a proliferation of ever more complex rights governing research and development—is complicating this future. At a similar point in the development of information technology, “open source” software revolutionized the field, simultaneously encouraging innovation and transforming markets. The question that Janet Hope explores in Biobazaar is: can the open source approach do for biotechnology what it has done for information technology? Her book is the first sustained and systematic inquiry into the application of open source principles to the life sciences.
The appeal of the open source approach—famously likened to a “bazaar,” in contrast to the more traditional “cathedral” style of technology development—lies in its safeguarding of community access to proprietary tools without discouraging valuable commercial participation. Traversing disciplinary boundaries, Hope presents a careful analysis of intellectual property-related challenges confronting the biotechnology industry and then paints a detailed picture of “open source biotechnology” as a possible solution. With insights drawn from interviews with Nobel Prize–winning scientists and leaders of the free and open source software movement—as well as company executives, international policymakers, licensing experts, and industry analysts—her book suggests that open source biotechnology is both desirable and broadly feasible—and, in many ways, merely awaiting its moment.