A Proposal of the German iGEM Teams Concerning Intellectual Property

During the meetup of the German iGEM teams from 23rd to 25th May also workshops took place in which amongst others we discussed the topic of bioethics. Moral questions were addressed, regarding the value of life and human influence on it, as well as questions dealing with the possible socioeconomic effects of synthetic biology.

Especially the topic of an open source vs. patent controlled field accounted for a large part of the discussion. During the discussion one student brought up the point that the legal status of parts in registry remains unclear and that there are parts (e.g. BBa_K180009) where only upon a closer look it becomes clear that the rights are company–owned. The issue that the legal status of parts in the registry remains uncertain is also mentioned in a recent article published by Nature (Bryn Nelson ‘Synthetic Biology: Cultural Divide ’, Nature 509, 152–154, 08 May 2014) :

"[N]o one can say with any certainty how many of these parts are themselves entirely free of patent claims."

We, the German iGEM teams, therefore like to suggest the addition of a new feature to the parts registry:

A dedicated data field of license information for each BioBrick part.

For the implementation, we propose to introduce two new fields to BioBrick part entries in the registry:

  1. A string property "LicenseInfo"
  2. A traffic light property (grey, green, yellow, red) to indicate the level of legal protection (unknown, BPA-like, free for research purposes, heavily protected)
This image shows a how the proposed field LicenceInfo could look like in the registry.

Implementing this feature would in our opinion further clarify and extend the parts info, provide a machine-readable format and thus improve future entries. With the emerging Entrepreneurship track and applications getting closer to industrial realization, the legal status becomes more and more important. Also it would raise awareness to the topic of the legal status of parts, leading to a debate which could further promote the idea of open source. At the same time we hope that examination of most parts will show that they are indeed free of restrictive legal protections.

The German iGEM Teams,