The Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) at McGill University announced that it will be the first academic research institute to become what it calls ‘Open Science.’ As Science is reporting, the MNI will make available all research results and research data at the time of publication. Additionally it will not seek patents on any of the discoveries made on research at the Institute.
While some universities have established open access repositories for research results, the declaration that the MNI will not seek patents makes its version of open science as closer to a government model. I’m sure some university technology transfer departments might blanch at the notion, as making a research institute’s output and intellectual property available for free and without expectation of financial return seems contrary to at least American research and development policy from the last few decades. Perhaps the current state of neurological research, where technology developed for a mass market is still some time away, makes the choice to forego patents easier.
But this kind of open access seems a natural evolution of the perspective taken by some units within the MNI. This release from the Brain Imaging Centre at McGill suggests that data sharing and open source software projects have been part of the university’s mission.
The new policy reflects an institutional perspective, individual participation is voluntary, and those researchers can still pursue patents. They simply can’t benefit from university support in navigating that process.
Will this catch on? I have no idea if this particular combination of open access research data and results with no patents will spread to other university research institutes. But I do believe that those elements will continue to spread. More universities and federal agencies are pursuing open access options for research they support. Elon Musk has opted to not pursue patent litigation for any of Tesla Motors’ patents, and has not pursued patents for SpaceX technology (though it has pursued litigation over patents in rocket technology). Perhaps more institutes will try and combine these choices, and it will be interesting to see how they do.