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A Synthetic Biology Commons?

November 13th, 2006 by Kaitlin Thaney

The first major legal analysis of the intellectual property implications of synthetic biology is now available on MIT DSpace. Written by Arti Rai and James Boyle, both Professors of Law at Duke University Law School, the article explores the possibility and actuality of a “synthetic biology commons.”

Synthetic biology, also known as biological engineering, is an emerging field that fuses traditional genetic approaches from biological sciences with the engineering mantra of standard “parts”. Using this approach, powerful new technologies are emerging – for example, a team of undergraduates from Slovenia recently won an international competition by designing an approach to sepsis, and a team from Edinburgh placed second with a programmed bacterium that would be able to detect arsenic levels in rural Bangladeshi wells. Both teams used an open database hosted at MIT called the Registry of Standard Biological Parts – open to all.

Rai and Boyle’s article discusses the relationship of synthetic biology to intellectual property law. They discuss MIT’S Open Access Registry as a mechanism that scientists are using to address concerns about intellectual property rights over parts. Rai and Boyle also discuss the possibility that the Registry might create a model for a “commons” in the field.

The final version of the article is set to be published in “PLoS Biology”, a “peer-reviewed, open-access journal published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), a non-profit organization committed to making scientific and medical literature a public resource,” as stated on their Web site.

Rai is also a member of the Science Commons Scientific Advisory Board, and Boyle, a founder of Science Commons and member of the Creative Commons Board of Directors.

To view the article in its entirety, click here.

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