Who Owns Science? The Manchester Manifesto (http://www.isei.manchester.ac.uk/TheManchesterManifesto.pdf) examines the relationship between the dissemination of scientific information and intellectual property. The report points out the benefits to society from scientific research and innovation both in terms of increasing knowledge and understanding of the world and in the development of drugs, technology etc which are of direct benefit to people. Science and innovation depends on the free exchange of information between scientists and also on the flow of information to society to enable the public understanding and therefore support of science.
Science is also a rapidly growing industry. An important component of the innovation process has been the idea of “ownership” in science and technology. Ideas and innovations have to be protected by licences, patents and copyright so that those who generate these ideas can gain benefit for their work, which in turn encourages others to invest in research and development.
However, ownership of ideas can also result in barriers to the dissemination of information and new products. For example, the use of new drugs in developing countries may be restricted by licence and patent restrictions. Companies may use their Intellectual Property rights to restrict the development of new products if they fear this might affect their profitability.
The Manchester Manifesto makes a strong statement on this issue.
"We recognise that innovation has an essential role in economic development, but its use for the pursuit of profit should not override, and ideally should not conflict with, achievement of welfare goals and scientific progress. Scientific information, freely and openly communicated, adds to the body of knowledge and understanding upon which the progress of humanity depends. Information must remain available to science and this depends on open communication and dissemination of information, including that used in innovation.
"It is clear that the dominant existing model of innovation, while serving some necessary purposes for the current operation of innovation, also impedes achievement of core scientific goals in a number of ways. In many cases it restricts access to scientific knowledge and products, thereby limiting the public benefits of science; it can restrict the flow of information, thereby inhibiting the progress of science; and it may hinder innovation through the costly and complicated nature of the system. Limited improvements may be achieved through modification of the current IP system, but consideration of alternative models is urgently required."
Librarians have long been the champions of the legitimate rights of users in the world of intellectual property. We should welcome this manifesto and support the Institute of Science, Ethics and Innovation in their campaign.