Category Archives: Open Notebook Science Info

ONS and Intellectual Property

This post is an excerpt from my dissertation which can be found here via figshare.

Note: The contained information pertains strictly to the US legal system, and is based on information I (Anthony Salvagno) alone researched. I am in no way a lawyer and offer no legal advice, but thought it would be foolish to not share basic copyright and patent law policy for scientific consideration.

 One of the biggest arguments I hear against open research is the fear about not being able to protect your intellectual property, also known as the fear of being scooped. The biggest oversight in that argument is that IP violations occur in traditional scientific culture both accidentally and maliciously. In an open environment, however, there is a greater risk of attracting this behavior if only because scientific research is made publicly available. With that said, there is nothing about being open that is any more inviting of harmful activity than in the traditional system. In fact, because of the current US legal system, being open may be more beneficial to protecting scientific information.

With regards to the US legal system, there are two primary protections available to scientists: (1) copyright law would protect recorded scientific information, for example data and ideas, while (2) patent law would protect scientific processes, production, procedures, etc.

Despite what is commonly believed, in no way does open notebook science prevent either protection from applying to scientific intellectual property. Open notebook science can actually stake your claim on IP and provide immediate protection. For patent law, patent protection is granted for one year once a work is publicly disclosed. If a patent is not filed, the IP becomes public domain and a patent can never be filed. In the case of copyright law, copyright applies from the moment of fixation (the moment scientific information is documented). In both cases, open notebook science can be used either as a defensive tactic to protect IP, or as an offensive tactic to prevent others from profiting from scientific IP.

Copyright Law

Copyright law is essentially very simple, and has been made increasingly simple since it was originally expanded upon in the US Constitution. The most recent addendum to this statute came about in the 1976 Copyright Act, which defined rights to copyright holders (exclusive rights), how copyright is achieved, and even what does/does not constitute infringement (fair use).

 While the law is simple in principle, copyright infringement is not necessarily black and white. In some instances it is questionable as to what is even copyrightable. In others, the matter of fair use is debatable. Even when there is infringement, it can be tough to prove because there are varying degrees of copying or “borrowing.”

The bare-essential rules of copyright law can be seen in Table 1:

Copyright is applied immediately from the moment any work is tangibly recorded, both publicly and privately.

To be protected a work needs to be original (not novel) and there needs to be a minimum element of creativity (known as expression).

The exclusive rights provided to copyright holders are reproduction, distribution, derivation, performance, and display.

Copyright infringement is a federal offense!

Even though copyright is applied immediately, in order to file suit for infringement a copyright needs to be registered with the US Copyright Office.

A copyright is not violated if it has been determined that the infringer has a fair use of the material. Fair use is a broad definition and is only created as a defense in infringement suits.

Table 1: Bare-essentials of copyright law.

Rule 2 from Table 1 may reveal that copyright law doesn’t apply to most of science intellectual property, because it is fact based and process driven. Patent law was developed for this very reason. While there are no statutes against having dual protection in the form of patents and copyrights, it is not likely to receive copyright protection if there is patent protection since the copyright lasts much longer than the patent. But that’s not to say none of science is copyrightable.

In fact, journal articles are in fact copyrighted. It can be interpreted that there is creative expression in organizing scientific discoveries (which are fact based) and that would make them copyrightable. Journals hold the copyrights for publications and have exclusive right to copy and distribute the articles any any material contained within. And there are cases where they’ve tried to enforce it.

In that link, the author tries to distribute (via publishing in her blog) figures from a publication and receives a cease and desist letter. Unfortunately it will never be known if there was a violation because the infringement never went to trial. She made an argument for fair use, which probably has some grounds, but skirted around the issue by recreating the figures using the original data (which is NOT copyrightable), thus making her own original figures which are therefore copyrightable. There is a chance that she has no fair use argument since her reuse (even through attribution) is a clear violation of distribution rights and can be viewed as falling within the same scope of the original publication.

 In the case of publications, scientists waive their copyright upon submission and acceptance for publication and dissemination, and grant that copyright to the journal. Not all scientific output is formatted for publication, or released at all. In that case, it would greatly benefit scientists to publish their figures via an open notebook to provide copyright protection for their research (if that is in fact the goal).

With regards to the traditional science system, scientists are offered protection from the moment they record their data and create figures based on that data. They are even protected at conferences where they present their research (either via an oral or poster format). This is specifically useful in the case of scientific scooping, which isn’t as rampant as we make it out to be but is still a major fear in the community. If there is a case of potential copyright infringement, you have the right to file suit (once you apply for copyright). If you can prove there was access to your research findings and there is substantial copying you may even win your case.

If you are an open scientist, in that you publish your research findings online before peer reviewed publication, you may be in an even better position. You are granted the same rights as a traditional scientist. In the open case, however, the proof of access is much easier to demonstrate since a simple Google search can turn up your findings. The burden is then that you prove there is evidence of copying, which is hard enough as it is.

Because of all the possible interpretations of copyright application to science, I highly advocate the use of the Creative Commons licenses. The CC0 (public domain), CC-BY (use with attribution), and CC-BY-SA (use with attribution and share alike) afford the copyright owner the ability to share their research findings with the community and in turn allow the community to share, use, and reuse those findings without fear of retaliation. It is incredibly important to note that using the CC licenses (with the exception of the CC0) does NOT waive all exclusive rights as a copyright holder. They allow you to waive your rights as long as the reuser of the original work attributes, shares, etc (per terms of the license) in turn. If those stipulations are infringed, you are free to take action. In fact, there is legal precedence of such action.

The licenses provide a means for others to use information and data without worrying about moral ambiguities, legal issues, and in turn promote a culture of sharing and attribution. With the CC licenses there will be more societal pressure to do the right thing. When credibility is involved social pressure can work wonders.

For more information, please refer to the US Copyright Office website.

Patent Law

The America Invents Act was initiated in 2011 and institutes some new changes to patent law. The newest inclusion to the law is that now patents are given based on a first-to-file system, whereas previously they were given through a first-to-invent system. This change was implemented on March 16, 2013 as a way to conform to international policy, but also to decrease the burden of the US Patent Office in identifying first-inventor which can be extremely complicated and arduous.

 In a first-to-file system, a patent will be granted to the first person to file a patent for a given invention. While the system is as simple as it sounds, it tends to give advantages to larger entities with the resources and efficiency to file patents for every invention conceived. It is outside the scope of this writing to argue the merits of a first-to-file or first-to-invent system, but this is mentioned because there are a couple of workarounds to the first-to-file mandate. The first is through the filing of a provisional application, and the second is through public disclosure. In both cases, there is a one-year grace period under which a patent must be filed lest it become public domain.

The provisional application is a low cost option that grants an inventor protection from competitive patent filings. The fee is $125 for small entity inventors, such as individuals, and $250 for large entities like corporations. The intellectual property remains a secret during the provisional period until patent. Public disclosure is a free alternative to the provisional patent, in the sense that there is nothing to file with the patent office. With this method, the details of an invention become public information, but no competitor may file a patent.

Scientifically speaking, patentable items include processes, designs, and technology of all sort (although computer programs are hard to patent or copyright). It is usually advantageous to maintain secrecy when dealing with intellectual property, and this culture is especially prevalent in science. As such many universities and institutions have legal services that aid scientists in patent filings. In an effort to maintain confidentiality, it is highly suggested by these services to file provisional applications for all inventions.

Much like copyright, the ultimate goal of a patent is to prevent competitors from stealing and reproducing a work without the inventor benefitting. It is little known fact that patents become public information after filing, generally 18 months after the earliest filing date. It is entirely possible for competitors to analyze a patent and create a “non-obvious”derivation of the work that can then be patented. In this scenario the benefit of the patent application is essentially lost.

Open notebook science can be a major benefit to the new patent process. Since it does cost money to file a provisional application, ONS (or other web disclosure) would provide a free alternative to the provisional application. The only difference between the two routes is that through ONS, the patent is immediately public information, while the provisional application maintains invention secrecy. Because the patent will eventually be public domain, the incentive to innovate is delayed a bit through the provisional process.

While ONS publicly discloses a scientific creation and encourages potential modification, it does not promote/encourage stealing the idea. Scientists are still protected from patent infringement. Now, if a competitor sees the notebook entries and makes non-obvious changes to the idea, then they can be granted a new patent, if filed. That is no different from how the patent process currently operates, it simply speeds up the process.

Filing a provision for every idea ever produced and paying $125 every time is a waste of money and resources. It is highly unlikely that every idea/invention will come to fruition. It also gives the US patent office a lot of unnecessary paperwork, and could actually stifle innovation and creativity. ONS would in turn allow a researcher to disseminate their ideas and protect the best ones for the original creator. Resources could be better used to fight for the best ideas and allow others to develop the ideas that won’t necessarily get the same level of attention or ever be produced.

In this way ONS could be used as a defensive tactic to protect a scientist from losing his/her best ideas. It is also possible for open notebook science to be used as an offensive tactic. In this maneuver, the documentation of ideas born from discussions or other endeavors creates prior art (which is essentially the same as public disclosure). An invention disclosed in prior art is exempt from patent protection. So in the case of public disclosure via ONS inventions would be blocked from filing for patent. Hypothetically, a researcher could publish any and all ideas, techniques, or technologies and prevent all competitors (and peers) from filing for patent.

In the interest of sharing research information, open notebook science may be the best protection against impediments in the scientific process. 

Notes on Intellectual Property: Copyright Law

In the quest to discover how a scientist may protect their intellectual property with regards to open access to that IP, I’ve decided to do some research. The notes contained here come from:

Intellectual Property: Patents, Trademarks, and Copyright (in a nut shell, 4th edition) by Arthur Miller and Michael Davis

In the interest of time and sanity, I’m going to focus on copyright law. Generally when providing open access and CC licensing, only copyright applies since nothing contained is trademarked or patented (except in the case where patents are filed). Hopefully the information I document here is useful to those who want to follow the model I have used, and maybe it’ll be useful to scientists who pursue other avenues of scientific discovery.

Foundations of Copyright Protection

  • first it should be said that copyrights pertain to “written” works which has come to expand to other works of art and computer programs, and in our case scientific data/research.
  • originally copyright law’s jurisdiction was from the moment of publication, but amended to the moment of fixation – that is the moment a work becomes transcribed into a tangible form. In our case that means once data/methods is acquired and stored.
  • typically, registration of a copyrighted work is important, but “the basic doctrine of this country’s copyright law is to protect authors without requiring it.” That is especially important for science because information and conclusions are being produced all the time and it would be nearly impossible to register all of that scientific work constantly.
  • The Copyright Clause of the US Constitution: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
    • Basically Congress has the ability to power to create legislation dealing with copyrights, and has chosen to do so since 1790 and has amended the law several times since then.
    • A 1976 revision to the law was created as the Copyright Act of 1976, which applied copyright to moment of fixation, like I stated before.
  • Prior to the 1976 Act copyright fell under two distinctions (not sure if that’s the right term): (1) there was common law copyright and (2) statutory copyright
    • common law gave authors the ability to protect their work from being copied forever as long as the work was unpublished.
    • once the work was published then statutory copyright law took over. this copyright was limited (unlike common law which was perpetual). The benefit was that authors could publish their work and claim a monopoly over their work and receive compensation while being protected by the law.
    • the problem with this system was that there was a gray period when common law copyright would end and statutory copyright would begin. To complicate matters new methods of communication made it hard to classify the concept of “publication.”
  • the 1976 Act essentially eliminates the concept of common law copyright and protects the author from the moment a work is recorded in some concrete way. For research I assume that would be from the moment notes are taken, but I can see a case to say that this moment is actually when a grant for research is written. Some articles in the act:
    • Section 102 is pretty important in that it defines the moment of copyright and what a work of authorship is. Interestingly section b of the law states: “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.” Despite the fact that copyright was specifically created to aid science the wording of that section seems contradictory. More information will be needed.
    • Section 106 gives the author exclusive rights to produce copies of the work and any person who makes copies without the authors consent is subject to an infringement suit and can be arrested (Section 506). Yikes! Derivative works are also protected.
    • The author is protected when displaying/performing the work publicly. This seems to be applicable to open science. Allowing scientists to publish their research without fear of data misuse/thievery
    • It seems copyright applies to the publication of science (data, journal articles, etc) but patents provide protection of the actual process of discovery. So the application of the law to open science would be a mixture of the two law regimes.
    • The basis of copyright protection lies in expression and originality. Since facts and ideas aren’t copyrightable the way an idea is expressed becomes important. So for science, data probably isn’t very protectable, but they way you display that data (interpretation) probably is copyrightable. Originality here becomes important. A work doesn’t need to be new or novel, it just needs to be proven that it wasn’t copied or derived from someone else.

The Subject Matter of Copyrights

  •  The key aspect of copyright is originality. According to the author “an author can claim copyright … as long as he created it himself, even if a thousand people created it before him.” 
    • This is especially interesting in the open publication world, and to me, makes Creative Commons licensing all the more important. With access to works (via the web) copyright violations can become more of an issue. The CC license essentially allows you to keep your copyright, but provide would-be authors the chance to adapt a work without fear of infringement (and likewise, authors won’t have to fear plagiarism).
    • Because of the simple concept of originality, there has been some interpretation as to what exactly can be copyrighted:
    • Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co v. Sarony (1884) established that artistic consideration and creative effort is enough for photographs to be copyrightable.
    • But in 1903 Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co declared that a work had originality if it was “one man’s alone.” At that point artistic merit was not to be considered by the court.
    • Artistic reproductions became copyrightable after Alfred Bell & Co. v. Catalda Fine Arts, Inc. (1951) because the reproduction can be considered an original work. Essentially the reproducer is protected from someone making copies of his reproduction. (This probably only applies to reproductions of works that are in the public domain, since only the copyright holder can allow reproductions of a work.) Also it must be demonstrated that the reproducer has contributed something more than trivial to the reproduction.
    • The “sweat of the brow” doctrine gave originality to works that were not artistic in nature. For instance, aggregations of public domain information were protected if the author demonstrated some investment of original work.
    • Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service (1991) rejected the “sweat of the brow” doctrine on the premise that there should be “some minimal degree of creativity.”
      • Basically simple information aggregation, or fact compiling, isn’t enough for copyright. But this shouldn’t exclude scientific data from being copyrightable since the collection of the data is a creative process and the data analysis is highly nontrivial.
      • Interestingly computer databases may fall into the category of non-copyrightable works and as such sui generis protections are required. This is interesting because of the involvement of data and may become an umbrella for scientific research.
      • As a result of this trial, there remains a lot of controversy as to how much creativity is required for copyright protection.
  • To determine what categories of works can be included for copyright protection see 17 USCA 102 (linked above). But the wording of that section suggests that copyrightable material need not fall under those categories specifically. Those are provided as a guide.
    • Works of utility (functional objects) are generally not granted copyright protection because that is what patents are for. But there are exceptions in the case of works that are non-functional, or for portions of functional objects that are non-functional (ie designs). For example Mazer v. Stein (1954) allowed the copyright of lamp bases.
    • When the idea and it’s expression are inseparable, copyright is generally denied. This affects things like forms, systems, software, and potentially scientific data. Blueprints on the other hand are copyrightable, and until recently the buildings themselves were not. Now buildings are copyright protected, but not functional components like doors and windows. Fashion designs fall into both realms, patterns are copyrightable but the design of clothes themselves are tough to copyright.
    • The availability of patent protection makes it hard to attain copyright, even though nothing is explicitly written to prevent this. In fact there has been a case to determine that patents and copyright can both exist in the same work (In re Yardley (1974)).
  • intangible expression is not protected under copyright since there is no fixation of the expression. Choreography is an example of this. Speeches are another, but presentations with powerpoint should be copyrighted because the presentation has been “scribed.” Likewise, audio recordings of a speech are copyrighted.
  • the term “writings” (as said in the Constitution) and the more narrow “works of authorship” (as written in the 1976 act) are incredibly hard to limit in scope. The authors note that it is “difficult to identify those works that would constitute writings but that would not be original works of authorship.”
  • computer programs are copyrightable, but may be denied copyright if they “lack minimal originality… or constitute the only way of accomplishing a particular result.” The second part is essentially phrased so that the program is itself an idea and no longer the expression of an idea that can be expressed in other ways.
    • when dealing with programs it seems there are two components literal and nonliteral:
      • literal components refer to the programming code and has been copyright protected
      • nonliteral components refer to the organization and the user-interface (among others) and is harder to attain copyright. This is especially true when the interface is dependent on user-interaction.
  • The Berne Convention has complicated the legality of copyright. Through signature, the US recognizes the copyright of all other countries that have also signed.
    • “the copyright formalities…have lost almost all of their legal significance”
    • “notice of copyright… has virtually no legal significance.”
    • “similarly, registration has almost no legal significance” –> “the only remaining procedureal effect of registration is that US authors must register before bringing suit.”

Exclusive Rights

  • see section 106 of the 1976 Act for the exclusive rights of authors. Most of these rights are upheld only publicly, but 2 (reproduction and derivative work) are subject to infringement both publicly and privately. Note that public is defined as “a performance or display to a ‘substantial number of persons’ outside of family and friends.”
  • reproduction allows the copyright owner to exclude all others from reproduction of the work
    • a copy is defined as “any material object from which, either with the naked eye or other senses, or with the aid of a machine or other device, the work can be perceived, reproduced, or communicated.”
    • phonorecords are not specifically excluded from the definition of copies, so they have been specifically added to the description of reproduction
  • derivative works (works based on the original work) are also under protection for a copyright owner
    • this is defined as “translations, arrangements, dramatizations, fictionalizations, films, recordings, abridgements, condensations, ‘or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted.'”
  • the right to distribute to the public “by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending…”
    • called the first-sale doctrine
    • copyright owner has the right to prohibit others from distribution of work, until the ownership is sold/transferred. At this point, the new owner has this exclusive right.
    • designed to prevent restraints on alienation, “attempts to make an actual sale resemble something less than that… will be unsuccessful.”
    • it is possible a third-party to be held liable if there was no first sale
  • the right to perform work publicly is also provided to copyright owners, but excludes purely graphical works and I feel scientific data falls into this category.
  • the right to display a copyrighted work is also exclusive to a copyright holder.
    • owners of a copy of work are permitted to display one image of the copy and this includes digital transmission (internet, network, etc)


  • occurs when any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner are violated – makes sense
    • doesn’t need to be intentional
    • it can even be unconscious – an author produces work that he conceives is original but is actually unintentionally borrowed from another author
    • indirect infringement – “one who actively and knowingly encourages another to infringe”
    • contributory infringement – producing a work/device that can be used to infringe on copyrights (see A&M Records v. Napster, 2001), but note that if there are substantial non-infringing uses then contributory infringement is not applied
    • vicarious/related infringement – seems similar to indirect inf. “a person who profits from an infringing performance, AND who somehow supervises or has the right to control or supervise the performance”
  • “to prove infringement, a party must establish ownership of the copyright and impermissible copying”
    • usually determined via circumstantial evidence
      • substantial similarity – remarkable resemblance to original work
      • proof of access – opportunity for contact with original work prior to creating work
    • literal copies allow for the proof of access requirement to be less
    • similarity and access are not required proofs, but merely an evidentiary method

Fair Use

  • “a balancing process by which a complex of variables determine whether other interests should override the rights of creators” – there are 4 interests:
    1. purpose and character of the use, including commercial uses
    2. the nature of the copyrighted work
    3. the proportion of the work that was used
    4. the economic impact of the use
  • seems like a very sticky thing to prove in cases of infringement and all cases involving fair use are ruled based on the interests listed above. Seems like cases where indirect infringement occurs has most likey use of fair use defense.
  • Purpose and Character:
    • commercial vs noncommerical
    • public vs private – private nature of use can be favorable in fair use defenses
    • educational and nonprofit (especially together) are favored for fair use, but not always grounds against infringement
  • nature of the work plays a role in determining fair use
    • ex: educational works may not fall into fair use if the original work is educational itself, because of the economic impact of the use (the works are in the same area of economic potential)
    • consent issue – would the author give consent for uncompensated use if the author can use the work for their own benefit?
    • unpublished nature of work may be within fair use, but prior cases have precedent for barring the defense
  • amount of the work used (proportion) is important in determining fair use
    • proportionality is to be measured with respect to the original (copyrighted) work, not the potentially infringing work
    • quantitative, qualitative, and reverse proportionality can all be used to determine fair use, but only the first two are specifically mentioned in law
  • economic impact is particularly important when determining fair use – this should be obvious since copyright is designed to provide an author protection to profit from their work


  • it is important to realize the physical work and the creative property are two separate entities. A transfer of the physical work does not constitute copyright transfer. This is important when considering communications between two parties: an email or letter for instance. The information in the communique is copyrighted and protected but the actual paper/message is nothing and particularly meaningless.
  • copyright must be transferred in writing
  • multiple authorship makes copyright ownership complicated and occurs when:
    1. work consists of material made by more than one person (joint works)
    2. work is made by one and published by another (work for hire)
    3. work can be neither joint nor work for hire and is classified as collective works
    4. work based on prior author is derivative
  • in cases of coauthors, each owner has the right to use the work for their own purposes, but neither can prevent the other from doing the same.
    • neither author is allowed to destroy the value of the work


  • copyright protection is automatic – as soon as a work is fixated (written, drawn, etc) copyright is applied
  • for clarification: copyright is designed to prevent copying, as an author you don’t need to find works that are similar to one you wish to create if you are creating something independently.
  • but registration of a copyright is required if legal action is to be taken – ie if you want to sue for infringement
    • you can register a copyright after finding an infringement but before filing suit
  • notice is optional (for works authored after 1989), but when it is applicable there are 3 rules, notice of copyright must be affixed with :
    1. copyright symbol (letter, symbol, word, or abbreviation
    2. the date of first publication
    3. the name of the copyright owner


Chapter 1: Open Notebook Science

View in Google Drive.

The link above should give you access to the chapter in all it’s glory. Currently it is pretty much done barring revisions, the addition of figures, and moving the references from side comments to an end of chapter reference section. I’m providing an embed below in case you don’t care about all the cool references enclosed and just want to read. If you are reading via mobile, click the link.

The entire story of my scientific career

This article is actually the introduction to my dissertation and I thought I’d share it with the world officially rather than let it die in an electronic archive somewhere. I’ve shared this story in some form or another several times already, but I’ve never provided the entire account like this. And so, it is with great pleasure that I share with you, the story of how I became the scientist that I am today…

I joined the KochLab in the Spring of 2007. It was a brand new lab that, at the time, was comprised of Dr. Koch, myself, and my best friend Larry Herskowitz (who is now Dr. Herskowitz). In our first lab meeting, Dr. Koch discussed his scientific endeavors up to that point (some of which are continued in this dissertation) and introduced the concept of open science.

Open science was, and still is, an emerging paradigm, and is not to be confused with a particular field of science. The core concept of open science is providing access information and it is through the opening of scientific research that many new endeavors have become possible. Many of these endeavors have changed the way scientists approach research and acquire data. Citizen science, for instance, has brought a mass scale of human analysis to previously unsolvable problems. Even sharing data has led to new forms of collaboration. Data repositories have allowed scientists to share data with the world in hopes of finding new uses for the shared data. Tools like DataOne have emerged to provide some organization to the new data. Meanwhile, open notebook science has emerged to open the entire scientific process and practitioners make every stage of research accessible including protocols, raw data, data analysis, and much more open to scrutiny.
Continue reading The entire story of my scientific career

The value of open research

This post is written to supplement the P2PU Open Science Education Module, and in particular is meant to be an introduction to open research education.

My name is Anthony Salvagno and I’m an open notebook scientist. That basically means that I publish ALL of my research in real-time on the web. All of that research is attributed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) license, so the information is free for anyone to use.

If the foundation of science is the pursuit of knowledge and to share that knowledge, then why is it acceptable for scientists to hide their research? Why is it ok for publishers to make you pay for that information? Why is it scientific culture to protect data like it is a commodity to be sold?

In truth, that system worked in the past because the technology was limited. Now the technology exists to instill a new culture. But what are the driving forces that would push someone to make this change? Simply put, I was fed up!

I was originally pushed into open science for one simple reason: my advisor was trained in an extremely closed system. In my first year of graduate school (and his lab), I was presented with the concept of open science, which then was barely taking hold. I was surprised to learn that scientific culture wasn’t a naturally open system, and in fact was surprisingly opposed to that concept.

Early in my graduate program, I became frustrated with the way scientific publications were written. I could only understand a small percentage of the articles I was reading, articles that were written by my peers. I knew most graduate students felt the same way. If we are producing the data and writing the papers, then why would we continue to perpetuate the cycle? So I decided that all of my research would be as accessible as possible.

At times, I would need to understand an experimental process, so I would scan the literature and try to repeat experiments to gain a foothold. I became frustrated with the content contained in the methods sections of scholarly work. Often, the methods would be vague, condensed, or just incomplete, and it would cost me time and money trying and failing to repeat experiments. So I began to document my protocols completely, including minor details that could potentially save other scientists a lot of time.

I have also come across scientific results of a questionable nature. Most of the time the results seemed incongruent with my own research, or even just based on my own expertise I knew there was no way to achieve those results. But the scientific process lacked transparency, so there was no way to understand how the researchers obtained their data. So I made sure that my analysis was entirely transparent, and I provide the data during every phase of analysis including the raw data.

In essence, I have become the scientist that I am because of the experiences that I’ve had. Instead of perpetuating the problems that exist in modern scholarly work, I work toward making a change.

I know I’m not the only scientist who has come across the same issues, in addition to other ones. There are a lot of open scientists who work toward the same goals. We hope to bring about a new culture to enhance the speed of science, to improve our collective knowledge, and to make discoveries that would be impossible in the old system. That is why open research practices are important to me, and that is why every scientist should be an open scientist.

Patent law and open notebook science

The speakers gave an example, but the details are fuzzy. They said they would post the slides, so when that happens, I’ll share them and refer to the timeline.


To me, open notebook science can be a major benefit to the new patent process. Since it does cost money to file a provisional application, ONS (or other web disclosure) would provide a free alternative to the provisional application. The only difference between the two routes is that through ONS, the patent is immediately public information, while the provisional application keeps the idea in secret. Because the patent will eventually be public domain, the incentive to innovate is delayed a bit.

It should be noted that even though ONS makes your idea open, and encourages potential modification it does not encourage stealing of the idea. You are still protected from patent infringement. But if a competitor sees your idea and makes non-trivial (non-obvious) changes to your idea, then they can be granted a new patent. That is no different from how the patent process works anyways.

But to me, filing a provision for every idea you ever come up with and paying $125 every time is a waste of money since you aren’t likely to follow through with every idea. It also gives the US patent office a lot of unnecessary paper work, and could actually stifle innovation and creativity. ONS would in turn allow some one to share their ideas and protect the best ones for the original creator (since you have one year from first disclosure). You could use your resources to fight for the ones you want to keep and allow others to cultivate the ideas that you won’t ever get to work towards.

It was interesting that when I asked the speaker about ONS and patents, while he didn’t say the conflicted (cause they don’t), he did say that it didn’t make sense to pursue both paths. His reasoning was basically what I outlined above, but it also felt like there was a money undertone to it. You can’t make money if you share your ideas. To that I disagree, but that’s an entirely different story altogether. One that I hope to address in April.