Biotechnology, Intellectual Property,
and the Prospects for
Leah A. Lievrouw
In an article published in Science 20 years ago, sociologist of science Dorothy Nelkin (1982) poses this question: “Who should control scientific information?” (p. 704). Considering scientific research broadly, but noting biomedical research as a major focus of interest at the time, she identifies several main tensions among academic scientists, government, and industry. 1 She notes the growing reliance on intellectual property controls (especially patents), instead of more conventional peer review and regulation, to manage and direct the flow of scientific information and interaction. It was becoming more difficult, she argues, to establish standards or uniform principles for intellectual property protection that would balance property interests with the expectations of open and disinterested scientific practice and communication.
By the late 1980s, the issue of intellectual property had become so prominent in discussions of science and technology that sociologist Harriet Zuckerman (1988) reframes the question: “Who has rights of ownership in science, under what circumstances, and how free are they to convey the ‘owned’ intellectual property to others?” (p. 8). She contrasts what she argues was a traditional Mertonian sense of property rights in science, in which discoveries are shared through open communication and publishing, and recognition and priority are accorded to the first to publish, with property rights in technology, where discoveries are often kept secret to protect the financial interests of investors and ownership is secured by the first to