Although pure public-domain models initiated by industry will no doubt continue to be the exception rather than the rule, the availability of data on a conditional public-domain basis, or at least on preferential terms and conditions to the not-for-profit research community, should enjoy far broader acceptance and ought to be promoted. Certainly, the existence of contractual templates, along the lines being developed by the Creative Commons, could help to encourage private-sector entities to make conditional deposits of data for relatively unrestricted access and use by public-interest researchers.
Scientific publications by private-sector scientists provide another valuable source of research data. However, these scientists labor under increasing pressures either to limit such publications altogether or to insist that publishers allow supporting data to be made available only on conditions that aim to preserve their commercial value. Although many academics in the scientific community oppose this practice, it is exactly what would proliferate if private-sector scientists held exclusive property rights in the data that allowed them to retain control even after publication. This sobering observation might induce the scientific community to reconsider the need to allow private-sector scientists to modify the bright-line disclosure rules otherwise applied to public-sector scientists to encourage them to disclose more of their data for nonprofit research purposes.
Even when companies remain unwilling to make their data available to nonprofit researchers on a conditional public-domain basis, there is ample experience with price discrimination and product differentiation measures favorable to academics. To the extent that the public research community does not constitute the primary market segment of the commercial data producer, either of these approaches will help promote access and use by noncommercial researchers without undue risks to the data vendor's bottom line. The conditions under which such arrangements might be considered acceptable by commercial data producers will vary according to discipline area and type of data product, but it is in the interest of the public research community to identify such producers in each discipline and subdiscipline area and to negotiate favorable access and use agreements on a mutually acceptable basis.
The terms and conditions acceptable to private firms operating in the vertical dimension that opt into a public access commons arrangement might be fairly restrictive in their allowable uses, as compared with the conditions applicable under the standard-form templates implementing any of the other options discussed above. However, the goal of securing greater access to privately generated data with fewer restrictions justifies this approach because it makes data available to the research community that would otherwise be subject to commercial terms and conditions in a more research-unfriendly environment.
Finally, the importance of regulating the interface between university-generated data and private-sector applications was treated at length above, with a view to ensuring that the universities' eagerness to participate in commercial endeavors did not compromise access to, and use of, federally funded data for public research purposes. Here, in contrast, it is worth stressing the benefits that can accrue from data transfers to the private sector whenever a framework for reducing the social costs of such transfers has been worked out to the satisfaction of both the research universities and the public funding sources. These arrangements are especially important if the exploitation, or applications, of any given database by the private sector would not otherwise occur in a nonproprietary environment.
Price discrimination and product differentiation can also facilitate socially beneficial interactions between the private sector and universities. For example, companies might consider licensing certain data to commercial customers on an exclusive-use basis for a limited period of time, after which the data in question would be licensed on preferential terms to nonprofit users or even revert to an open-access status. This strategy may work successfully in the case of certain environmental data, where most commercially valuable applications are produced in real time or near-real time and can then be made available at lower cost and with fewer restrictions for retrospective research that is less time dependent. Such an approach might not work in other research areas, such as biotechnology, however, where a delay in access may not be an acceptable trade-off or that delay is too long to preserve competitive research values.