property surrounding research tools. The differences in circumstances surrounding the various case studies argue against easy generalizations. Even the recognition that a particular innovation is an important research tool does not define clear strategies. Not only does the category have no legal status, it is not even a discrete category. A technology might be a research tool in the hands of some users and a means of production in the hands of others. Even as a research tool, the technology takes different forms. Participants drew a distinction between research aids and discovery tools. That is, a research tool can be more like a screwdriver—designed to turn screws of a specific size and shape—or more like a telescope—a discovery tool useful for scanning horizons. Describing something as a research tool generally describes only particular instances of its use and almost never defines its full range of uses or values.
Leon Rosenberg noted that the research-use exemption is used by many companies and described it as a "rational forbearance," which he hoped would continue. Many workshop participants, especially those working in universities, expressed surprise that the research-use exemption was not an established legal principle. However, until this exemption is upheld in a court of law, it will remain simply a general practice with no legal protection and will be sustained primarily by individuals' self-interest.
All the speakers at the workshop associated with major pharmaceutical companies—Bennet Shapiro, Thomas Caskey, and Leon Rosenberg—mentioned that it was in their organizations' self-interest to disseminate their research tools broadly. In contrast, speakers from smaller biotechnology firms noted that their survival depended on their ability to disseminate research tools on a more restricted basis. Both sectors claim a common goal—to develop useful applications from advances in molecular biology—but the means by which they can achieve this goal, given their business constraints, are quite different.
Finally, the variation in the technology of different research tools argues against the wisdom of searching for universal guiding principles. Perhaps the only guiding principle that one might derive from categorizing a particular innovation as a research tool is the observation that the innovation has the potential to foster scientific progress. Certainly, none of the workshop participants questioned the principle that scientific progress in biomedical research should not be impeded, no matter how the intellectual property rights are distributed. Instead, the disputes about rights of access to research tools lay in the details. Does the delay in disclosure that results from patent application inhibit scientific progress? Is access to research tools broad enough to facilitate scientific progress? Do the benefits of a protected environment for further development outweigh the costs of excluding others from this research tool?
Indeed, rather than providing answers, the most practical contribution of the workshop might have been to suggest questions. What sorts of issues might technology transfer managers consider in deciding how to manage research tools? The following questions emerged from our distillation of the common themes