I venture to say that most of us are well aware of the fault lines between proprietary and open source software. Proprietary software is characterized by keeping source code secret together with contractual restrictions on the use of the software, plus a reliance on the negative right aspects of copyright and other relevant IP law. Open source, to the contrary, rests on collaborative development and disclosure of source code, subject to various terms and conditions.
The authors discuss what they call Open Source Technology and Open Science. While the proponents of these variations of open source software are aware of the differences between the underlying subject-matter of software and biotechnology respectively, there appears to be a belief that that there is enough common ground to speak of both areas in a roughly similar fashion.With respect to Open Source Technology, there are two general categories. The first is described as focusing on bioinformatics ("the application of computer software and methodologies to solve biological problems"). The second category is marked by a move from the specific focus of the software interface to an effort "to ensure that the biotechnology tools required for research and innovation are openly available."
In particular, this second category centres on solving biotech-related problems in what the authors call "underserved communities." By this the authors mean communities with limited financial resources, with the result that there is an inability "to navigate the maze of patent rights and licensing necessary to engage in the targeted research." Stated otherwise, this approach intended to enable projects to deal successfully with the daunting problem of patent thickets.
1. Open Science is based on patent rights, which will sooner or later become public knowledge at some point. The same cannot be said of software under Open Source.The authors conclude, with perhaps a tinge of understatement, that "Open Science Systems have not always matched their initial expectations." Perhaps the problem lies in the expectations themselves. When one considers the history of open source software, one is struck by the unique combination of ideology and technology that came together to forge "the movement". It is not at at all clear that this combination exists with respect to biotechnology, with the possible result that ideology may be the driving force, sometimes in an exaggerated and less than helpful fashion. That said, I have virtually no direct experience with open source arrangements in the biotech context. Perhaps my own views on the subject are themselves driven by my own ideological predilection on the subject.
2. The resource requirements of Open Science, with an emphasis on sophisticated lab equipment, favor large organizations.
3. The very fact that Open Science is based on patent rights, while Open Source is based on copyright, means that each arrangement will reflect that particular aspects of the underlying legal right.