Better to Give than to Receive: An Uncommon Commons in Synthetic Biology
Governing Medical Knowledge Commons, 192-221 (Katherine J. Strandburg, Brett M. Frischmann, & Michael J. Madison, eds., Cambridge University Press, 2017).
30 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2018
Date Written: October 1, 2017
The emerging scientific field of synthetic biology offers an array of technical and scientific approaches new to the biological sciences. In addition, the community of scientists leading synthetic biology tends to agree on an ethos of openness and collaboration that marks a departure from the previous proprietary norm predominant in biology. While traditional biologists have long relied upon the patent system to protect and foster commercialization of their inventions, the synthetic biology community has tended to promote the very different ethos of open innovation and has created knowledge commons governance institutions to support that ethos. In fact, many in the field suspect patents of chilling research and believe that patenting ought to be avoided. Instead, many synthetic biologists prefer to contribute the new strands of DNA that they create to a commons, whose contents are available to all. This chapter first provides some background on the field of synthetic biology. It next describes some of the institutions that synthetic biologists have put in place to create and maintain a synthetic biology commons. It then shares the first empirical evidence from synthetic biology that in the synthetic biology commons, giving behavior is overwhelmingly more frequent than taking behavior. In other words, instead of being dominated by free riders, the synthetic biology knowledge commons appears to offer free rides.
Keywords: invention, innovation, technology, technological innovation, user innovation, free innovation, collaborative innovation, open innovation, household innovation, intellectual property, patent
JEL Classification: D13, K2, K23, O1, O14, O17, O25, O3, O30, O31, O32, O33, O34, O35, O38, O39
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