Open Source Biotechnology + Patentability = ?

A post from our student blogger Sarah Goodman

While completing an assignment for my capstone project I became interested to learn more about open source technology related to patentability.

Open source is a philosophy that promotes free redistribution and access to an end product’s design and implementation. One example of open source products is the Linux family of computer operating systems that are often available free of charge. Organizations such as Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation have websites where individuals can file for alternative “licenses,” or levels of restriction, for their works. Open source resources most often refer to software and technology development. The concept of open source technology has existed for decades. There is a lot of available information concerning open source software. However, biological open source technologies have been recently emerging.

Biological open source technologies extend the principles of open source software development to the development of research tools in medical and agricultural biotechnology. One of the leading organizations aimed at open source biotechnology development is the Biological Innovation for Open Society, or BIOS. This new technology-sharing initiative was developed at Cambia, a nonprofit Australian research institute supported by the Rockefeller foundation.

In one example, open source methods have been used to distribute a technique for creating a genetically modified crop.  This technique is available free to others to use and improve, as long as any improvements are also available free. BIOS states that while users of the technology are required to put any improvements they make into the open source pool of knowledge, companies and universities are allowed to patent any products they make using the technology, like a genetically modified crop. Patents are integral for innovation in biotechnology, so it is important that the products developed from using open source technological tools and methods can be patented. However, all licensees are required to share some aspects of the improvements, making them available for use to other licensees, even though they may be patented.

Open source licenses do not necessarily bar inventors from obtaining patent protection on inventive aspects of their technology. However, there may be some constraints on the inventors’ patent rights if some of the integral pieces of the invention were distributed through the open source method.

There are many difficulties in translating the current open source regulations to the biomedical field. The primary licensing system in software is copyright, whereas in biotechnology it is patents. The cost of patent protection can be substantial, but patent fees can be recovered from licensees. Due to the complexity of biotechnological innovations it can be difficult to determine what constitutes an improvement to a technology that uses open source materials or methods.

The current question is whether the open source model will work in the biological research field and how patent rights will be determined in court cases. A large determinant of the acceptance of the open source method in the commercial market will be whether or not it is appealing to IP owners. Open source biotechnology is an interesting emerging topic that will play a role in future biological patents.

Need a Job? Make a Plan. (For Free)

Students in Notre Dame’s Patent Law Program already have a clear idea of how they want to use their education and are on direct path to a booming career field. But what about others, who need help learning how to apply their science skills to the workforce? Turns out—there’s an app for that.

In the magazine Science,Jim Austin and Bruce Alberts note patent law among the “career options that Ph.D. scientists haven’t trained for directly—but for which they have useful knowledge, skills, and experience.” But as Martin Rosenberg points out, there is still “a huge disconnect between how we currently train scientists and the actual employment opportunities available for them.”

Which brings us to the IDP, or, Individual Development Plan. While the concept has been used mostly by corporations and governmental agencies to encourage employee introspection and outlined goal-setting, now academia seems to be catching on. Perhaps due to bleak job market in education and more graduates turning to alternative careers, many degree programs have inserted IDP’s in their curriculum to get students thinking about life after graduation.

Sound good like a good idea? It’s about to sound better—a free web app called myIDP has just been released. This self-assessment tool was designed by career professionals in science to help users indentify key career goals and outline the steps to be taken toward their achievement.  The app even has an option to send you email reminders and updates, in case your focus needs an extra kick every now and then.

Check out myIDP here and report back on what you find!

Office of Tech Transfer a Valuable Resource for Students

A post from our student blogger Sarah Goodman

An important resource to the students in the MSPL program at the University of Notre Dame is the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT). This office is available to assist university faculty, research staff, and students in bringing new technologies to commercialization. The OTT has the resources to patent, market, and license products of university research. This office secures legal protection in the form of patents for technologies invented at Notre Dame and markets the technologies to companies suited to develop the inventions. When appropriate companies are identified, the OTT is capable of negotiating licensing agreements and distributing the proceeds in accordance with the University’s intellectual property policies. The MSPL program prepares us for job opportunities in the field of academic technology transfer as a possible career option.

I am a current student employee in the OTT. My job duties include researching current Notre Dame technologies and completing Patentability and Marketability Reports. To investigate the patentability of an invention, I search patent and literature databases to identify publications that could prevent a patent from issuing on the technology.  To investigate the marketability of an invention, I complete market research to see if anything similar is commercially available, investigate the target customers, and determine whether or not the technology has commercial value.

The other student employee at the OTT is Vini Melo, a current student in the graduate ESTEEM program. He also evaluates inventions and is currently coordinating databases that will be used to market technologies invented at Notre Dame.

The Office of Technology Transfer is a valuable asset on campus and will aid in the success of the MSPL program. The University’s Intellectual Property Policy and information concerning the Office of Technology Transfer is available online at

MSPL Boot Camp

A post from our student blogger Sarah Goodman

During the orientation Boot Camp, the MSPL class had the opportunity to learn from three different speakers in the patent law field. The first guest, Dr. Art Moss, is a Sr. Patent Associate at DuPont. He gave a full-day presentation, “Patent Law for Researchers,” to the MSPL class and some members of the Notre Dame community at Innovation Park. Dr. Moss explained the different parts of a patent and techniques for writing a patent application. He also gave an introduction to the United States Code Title 35, which addresses the patentability of inventions.

Our second speaker was Dr. David Burns, a patent agent and employee of Qualcomm Incorporated. Qualcomm is a California-based corporation that is a leading patent licensor of wireless technology and innovation. Dr. Burns lectured to our class for three days. Some highlights included an extensive introduction to conducting inventor interviews and working with invention disclosure forms. We also learned more about the Code of Federal Regulations Title 37 which contains the rules concerning the format and filing of patent applications. As one of the most efficient patent writers in his field, he gave our class tips on drafting patents and creating invention illustrations.

We met the final guest speaker of the Boot Camp on a tour of the Union Station Technology Center in South Bend. The facility is a state-of-the-art technology center which offers computing space and power services while operating fiber optic networks for the Midwest. Dr. Shane Fimbel, chief operating officer of Union Station, gave us a presentation about the history and function of this data center as well as a tour of the facilities. He emphasized the essential role of innovation and creativity in the success of this business.