Team:Valencia Biocampus/HumanPractices


Human Practices

Open License (and Responsible Research and Innovation)

Not unlike scientific research, RRI is about common sense, about combining self-profit with others’ profit, about taking care of our planet. We believe that being responsible is not the opposite of being selfish; responsibility is just a broad-minded way of selfishness that points at the long-term benefit. And there is no long-term benefit without a sustainable society in a sustainable environment. What is good for our neighbors and for our home must be good for us as well.

Our Proposal: Responsible Research and Innovation as a tool to choose within the IP ecosystem.

Since we, our Human Practices sub-team, are a biotechnology and a law student, we are also glad to see that another key concept in IP is a beautiful science-law metaphor: Jane Calvert & Drew Endy's “diverse ecology” scenario. This image fits well with our interdisciplinary spirit and we found it very useful because it evokes very elegantly the range of different solutions out there to choose from in order to use a scientific invention in a given way.

Having reached this point, it is obvious which the next step is: there is a whole ecosystem of IP figures (see the poetic cover illustration by Paula, another team member), and one has to be chosen. How? Our bet is simple: by using RRI principles (mutual learning, human resources management, fundamental rights respect, research formation and transparency) as the main guide in the decision process.

The following figure illustrates what we propose:

Figure 1
Figure 1. RRI-based decision process on a diverse ecology scenario. From a diverse array of IP protection possibilities (diverse ecology scenario), we propose RRI as a framework to choose the most suitable one. In order to assist in the decision process, experts’ opinion is the major force, and we propose here two tools to contribute to this process: a common language exemplified by our dictionaries (Annex I), and a formula-based assistance procedure (Annex II).

In our view, the decision process has to fall upon the responsibility of the experts or examiners, as it is the case today. But we propose that a formation on RRI for patent examiners and other IP actors is introduced. In the same way that scientists need a basic law background for transferring their knowledge into applied solutions, we envisage a future in which everybody involved in the production of a given IP figure (a patent, for example, from scientists and engineers to ethics specialists, lawyers and other experts) should share a common interdisciplinary formation on RRI. A common language is the first step towards a common goal.

Additionally, we propose in this report two tools that might contribute to avoid misunderstandings and to make a simplified decision process available for a wide audience. In order to accomplish the former objective, we have prepared the two common-languages short dictionaries listed in Annex II. To achieve the latter, we propose, for the first time for the best of our knowledge, a math-based equation that could contribute to make IP issues available to a wide audience (for a complete description see Annex I). We have prepared the equation in two steps. First, we combined the patentability requirements (novelty, inventive step, industrial application) in a mathematically logical way to reach our draft equation (F0). Then, we submitted the formula to several experts to have their feedback, and thus modify F0 accordingly to yield F1 (this reflexive process, combining design with improvement rounds, elegantly evokes a biotechnology strategy called directed evolution).

Figure 2
Figure 2. Human decisions are only acceptable if no help is used? Left, chess player. Right, graphic representation of the equation F0 we initially proposed for patentability determination, as a function of the Industrial Application (I) and the Inventive step (A). See Annex II for details.

The very idea of using maths to decide whether something is patentable may seem odd. The opinion of the law experts was useful; but we wanted to have a broader feedback from other social actors. We thus carried out a survey to probe the opinion of iGEMers, scientists/engineers and law students, but also of general population to compare their view on our proposal. The C section of Annex II describes the results of this survey that can be summarize as follows: the vast majority of the 526 respondents (70 to around 80%) found that a math-based approach could be a useful tool, but should not substitute humans as the final decision makers. We could not agree more on that.


Original watercolor by Paula Villaescusa.Click on it to view the full report (pdf)
PDF File Annex I. Patentability index PDF File Annex 2. Brief dictionary of IP and SB