Biological engineering today is increasingly built on a foundation of standard biological parts that engineers can use to build their systems. These are the basic subroutines in our programming language.
It’s important that the parts that provide core functionality be free of restrictive IP rights and a couple recent developments deserve to be celebrated:
(1) Last week a district judge interpreted certain natural gene sequences to be primarily information rather than chemicals and hence not patentable.
Rob Carlson wrote up a nice summary and you can also read coverage from NYTimes and Genomics Law Report. The ruling only applies to natural sequences, but it means that biological engineers can be a little more comfortable using the massive amount of new DNA sequence that is added to GenBank daily. Also nice to see the law catching up with the 60-year old realization that DNA is information.
(2) The BIOFAB: International Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology (BIOFAB) was launched in December by the BioBricks Foundation with an initial bolus of funds from the National Science Foundation.
I heard the BIOFAB gang speak at the recent SynBERC conference in Berkeley and was excited to see the progress they had made. The fab is set up to be an industrial-scale part production facility for generating open (IP-free), high quality biological parts. The parts will hopefully be released under something similar to the the BioBrick Public Agreement that is a sort of GPL for biological parts.
Here’s hoping for more steps toward open parts in the future.