Intellectual property rights may give incentive to people and companies to do creative work, but do they also hinder subsequent innovation? This is the question economics professor Heidi Williams asks in a new paper published in a recent issue of the Journal of Political Economy. Over a decade ago, the government-funded Human Genome Project and the private firm Celera each published work on human genome sequencing. From day one, the HGP put its sequenced genes in the public domain, while Celera relied on IP rights to protect its work, selling data to firms and requiring licenses for any commercial products developed.
Williams investigated how the 1,600 genes covered by Celera’s IP—which all eventually went into the public domain—fared compared with genes initially sequenced by the HGP. She found that Celera’s genes were less likely to be the focus of both scientific research and commercial development, even years after the Celera genes were freely available. “One additional year of Celera’s intellectual property translates to a persistent and permanent difference in whether we figure out whether it is linked to disease,” Williams told the Boston Globe. She suggests that IP rights reduced subsequent scientific research and product development by 20 to 30 percent.
Explore Professor Williams’ research in the Open Access Articles collection in DSpace@MIT, where it is openly accessible to the world.
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