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Discussion Framework

Paul Uhlir 1

Factual data are fundamental to the progress of science and to our preeminent system of innovation. Freedom of inquiry, the open availability of scientific data, and full disclosure of results through publication are the cornerstones of public research long upheld by U.S. law and the norms of science. The rapid advances in digital technologies and networks over the past two decades have radically altered and improved the ways that data can be produced, disseminated, managed, and used, both in science and in all other spheres of human endeavor. New sensors and experimental instruments produce exponentially increasing amounts and types of raw data. This has created unprecedented opportunities for accelerating research and creating wealth based on the exploitation of data as such. Every aspect of the natural world, from the subatomic to the cosmic, all human activities, and indeed every life form can now be observed and stored in electronic databases. There are whole areas of science, such as bioinformatics in molecular biology and the observational environmental sciences, that are now primarily data driven. New software tools help to interpret and transform the raw data into unlimited configurations of information and knowledge. And the most important and pervasive research tool of all, the Internet, has collapsed the space and time in which data and information can be shared and made available, leading to entirely new and promising modes of research collaboration and production.

Much of the success of this revolution in scientific data activities, apart from the obvious technological advances that have made them possible, has been the U.S. legal and policy regime supporting the open availability and unfettered use of data. This regime, which has been among the most open in the world, has placed a premium on the broadest possible dissemination and use of scientific data and information produced by government or government-funded sources. This has been implemented in several complementary ways: by expressly prohibiting intellectual property protection of all information produced by the federal government and in many state governments; by contractually reinforcing the traditional sharing norms of science through open data terms and conditions in federal research grants; and by carving out a very large and robust public domain for noncopyrightable data, as well as other immunities and exceptions favoring science and education, from proprietary information otherwise subject to intellectual property protection.

1Note: This presentation is based on an article by J. H. Reichman and Paul F. Uhlir, A Contractually Reconstructed Research Commons for Scientific Data in a Highly Protectionistic Intellectual Property Environment, 66 Law and Contemporary Problems 315 (Winter-Spring 2003), and is reprinted with the permission of the authors.

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