Nature Biotechnology has just published an article on the perceived effects of intellectual property protection for biological research. The article involved a detailed survey of academic agricultural biologists on their perception of IP and research. The authors' primary conclusion:
Scientists believe that, contrary to the current consensus, proliferation of IP protection has a strongly negative effect on research in their disciplines. Our respondents' answers on the details of access problems are highly consistent with those reported in the recent literature, but they ultimately relate these problems to the proliferation of IP protection in academia. . .
They attribute problems of delayed or blocked access to needed research tools to material transfer agreements (MTAs). Academic administrators mandate use of MTAs to protect the value of the IP rights held by their institutions or to reduce their exposure to lawsuits by third parties. In short, the major impediment to accessing research tools is not patents per se, but patenting as an institutional imperative in the post-Bayh-Dole era.
As noted, the responses focus primarily on the barriers created by university promotion of IP protection through patenting and material transfer agreements. Scientists reported that these efforts result in numerous delays that impede the progress of research. Moreover, scientists express concern about the contractual restrictions on publication that come with these agreements that often cause signficant constaints on academic freedom. The article notes that these frustrations may help explain why agricultural biologists have become leaders in open source biology.