Intellectual Property, Open Science and Research Biobanks

Caso Roberto, Rossana Ducato

Research output: Working paper


In biomedical research and translational medicine, the ancient war between exclusivity (private control over information) and access to information is proposing again on a new battlefield: research biobanks. The latter are becoming increasingly important (one of the ten ideas changing the world, according to Time magazine) since they allow to collect, store and distribute in a secure and professional way a critical mass of human biological samples for research purposes. Tissues and related data are fundamental for the development of the biomedical research and the emerging field of translational medicine: they represent the “raw material” for every kind of biomedical study. For this reason, it is crucial to understand the boundaries of Intellectual Property (IP) in this prickly context. In fact, both data sharing and collaborative research have become an imperative in contemporary open science, whose development depends inextricably on: the opportunities to access and use data, the possibility of sharing practices between communities, the cross-checking of information and results and, chiefly, interactions with experts in different fields of knowledge. Data sharing allows both to spread the costs of analytical results that researchers cannot achieve working individually and, if properly managed, to avoid the duplication of research. These advantages are crucial: access to a common pool of pre-competitive data and the possibility to endorse follow-on research projects are fundamental for the progress of biomedicine. This is why the "open movement" is also spreading in the biobank's field. After an overview of the complex interactions among the different stakeholders involved in the process of information and data production, as well as of the main obstacles to the promotion of data sharing (i.e., the appropriability of biological samples and information, the privacy of participants, the lack of interoperability), we will firstly clarify some blurring in language, in particular concerning concepts often mixed up, such as “open source” and “open access”. The aim is to understand whether and to what extent we can apply these concepts to the biomedical field. Afterwards, adopting a comparative perspective, we will analyze the main features of the open models – in particular, the Open Research Data model – which have been proposed in literature for the promotion of data sharing in the field of research biobanks. After such an analysis, we will suggest some recommendations in order to rebalance the clash between exclusivity - the paradigm characterizing the evolution of intellectual property over the last three centuries - and the actual needs for access to knowledge. We argue that the key factor in this balance may come from the right interaction between IP, social norms and contracts. In particular, we need to combine the incentives and the reward mechanisms characterizing scientific communities with data sharing imperative.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Trento
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • biobanks
  • comparative law
  • intellectual property
  • open access


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