Editor’s Note: In light of a recent Twitter conversation, I felt it was time to re-post this 2013 article questioning what is meant by research “results”. Emma Friesen asked the question, “Have OA advocates ever gone after patents arising from publicly-funded research?” The question of patents has largely been pushed to the side when discussing access to taxpayer funded research results. There are good reasons for this — for one, it’s likely much more difficult to garner university and researcher support for eliminating the promised rewards for achievement. Making papers freely available doesn’t take money out of the pockets of universities or researchers (indeed, some have promised that it will save them money). Personal and institutional financial sacrifice is a much bigger ask. In an era where many are questioning the difficulties required by the academic career track, eliminating yet another incentive system will drive even more of our best minds away from academia.
Perhaps the bigger question though, is whether eliminating patents would hinder the economic development sought by governments as a key reason for funding research. Would there be more or less economic development if government funded research was required to be in the public domain? The Bayh-Dole Act, as noted below, is seen as a major driver of the US economy. Without patents (and trade secrets), Google (initial funding from the NSF) would not exist. Many pharma companies won’t make the investment to develop a new drug unless they have an exclusive license to it.
And, as is discussed below, not all research works the same way. In the Humanities, the “results” are quite different than those seen in the sciences.