I should recover an old press release, dating to the 90s, that announced the intention of some japanese businessmen to patent pizza. I am not joking. Since no one thought it before, they considered the idea to patent pizza and claim the royalties to any single restaurant in the world. They have obviously failed after a rather zippy protest of Italian public opinion. The story I am gonna tell today looks quite similar, since the intent to patent biological cloud computing is not less insane. Illumina, the “large and in charge” biotechnology firm who brought mass sequencing to common use, claims the paternity of cloud bioinformatics, as you can see on this Google Patents entry. In a few words, the company affirms to have invented a way to collect and analyze biological data in the cloud. I think that Richard Holland hits the spot in his article on EagleGenomics, the definition of what they claim they have invented is really broad and it could include any kind of bionformatics- oriented application or method. I wonder if they will sue T-Coffee for letting the users to save the alignments results on Dropbox, or the major databases for including a data storage. How many future applications will be charged? How many project will fail for legal reasons?
The real problem with patents is mostly cultural and philosophical. Patents are killing culture, science and innovation. In a very typical neo- liberist mentality, control, exclusion and corporations privileges are the main way in making profits. The first aim is not investing in new ideas, but being the first and the only one in doing this. And there are two ways to do it: be faster or cause the others to be slower to the point to prevent them to run. And the latter, is always the easier choice. Research is thus no more a matter of innovation, ideas and hard work, but a question for lawyers and legal technicism. This is the transposition of the principles of financial speculation to Science.
And as happens to the economy, what we would really need is a democratic governance. A set of laws and practices to guarantee the public access to knowledge and scientific production preventing exclusionary policies. We must admit, for first, that Science needs democracy. As many people can access and modify the information, advances and innovation come faster, and everyone can easily quantify the advantages of this. Kinda obvious, to me.