The need for new legal strategies in biological engineering and research Today, many individuals and organizations across the world develop DNA parts on an ad hoc basis. These ad hoc parts can be used to construct a limited number of simple genetic programs (for example, modifying bacteria to produce human insulin). Because these parts are not freely shared, there is a tremendous duplication of research and development effort (for example, time spent rediscovering or recreating a DNA part that already exists somewhere else). Furthermore, because no strategies exist to support the sharing and reuse of a part across many genetic programs, innumerable useful applications are impractical to pursue (for example, development of a gene therapy strategy may require negotiating licenses to reuse a dozen pre-existing DNA parts, each developed for disparate purposes and owned by different sources). Finally, because there are not widely recognized and open standards that support parts definition, characterization, and use, individuals and organizations are prevented from effectively contributing their parts as BioBricks to an open commons that supports the free reuse of BioBricks for useful purposes.
The activities of the BBF are directed towards creating the social framework that supports free access to, improvement of, and growth of an open Commons of BioBricks. An open collection of standard biological parts that can be freely reused for both research and commercial applications will directly enable the engineering of biology for useful purposes, and accelerate the science of discovering how natural biological systems work.
Today, four major legal strategies exist that could be used to share DNA parts: patents, contracts, copyright, and public domain. Each strategy has its own costs and benefits; it is not now clear which strategy, if any, would be best suited for developing and protecting an open commons of BioBricks. For example, patents promote disclosure of information and allow for unfettered reuse after a period of time (~20 years). However, patents are expensive to obtain, research, and defend; most individuals cannot afford to patent all newly invented parts. Negotiating licenses to reuse many patented parts in a novel application is expensive in both time and money. Since its inception, the BBF has been leading discussions about the costs and benefits of each legal strategy, and is working with a number of collaborators (for example, the Science Commons – http://www.sciencecommons.org/) to develop a legal strategy that will ensure that the growing collection of BioBricks remains freely available, and can be improved upon and used by the public. BBF resources will be used to support research on the development of an effective legal strategy. BBF resources will then be used to implement this strategy to protect and foster the development of an open commons of BioBricks. If necessary, the BBF will commit resources to the legal defense of access and reuse of the open commons of BioBricks.
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