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Revson Project on Patents, Research & Innovation in the Life Sciences

This is a year-long project investigating the benefits and drawbacks of increasing patenting activity and university-industry collaboration in the life sciences in the digital age.

The Berkman Center’s Digital Media Project (DMP) has worked for some time to analyze the impact of digital technology on commercial markets, including the resulting changes in business models and intellectual property doctrine. Under a generous grant from the Revson Foundation, the DMP is now undertaking a year-long project investigating the intersection of such technology with life sciences research in the public sector. This field has witnessed a proliferation of patenting and private funding in recent years and we are interested in determining more precisely 1) the extent and form of such patenting and related contracting activities; 2) their benefits in terms of inducing the creation of scientific knowledge and its translation into socially valuable products; and 3) their possible costs in terms of blocking scientists’ access to research, promoting a commercial culture of secrecy and profit-orientation that may be in tension with valued scientific motivations, norms and priorities, and higher costs whereby the public “pays twice” for innovations, once as taxpayers funding such research and then again as consumers paying patent-protected monopoly prices. We are also interested in exploring any opportunities for new models of research, collaboration and dissemination that may be possible as a result of the application of digital and informational technologies to the fields of molecular biology, biotechnology and genomics.

Our overall aim is to produce a foundational white paper that will present case studies illustrative of potential opportunities and problems and address the technological, economic, and legal issues they raise. To that end, our research will consist of critical analysis of the extant empirical and theoretical literature; consulting with leading legal, economic and sociological scholars; interviewing scientists, technology managers and policy-makers; and exploring in-depth some significant case studies.