Commercialised programs

Simon Brocklehurst Bioc smb18 at
Wed Feb 9 07:30:16 EST 1994

GOLDMAN at ALA.BTK.UTU.FI (Adrian Goldman, BTK x8029) writes:

>This announcement, and the fact that the HKL suite of programs for the RAXIS
>have to bought from MSC (for $1500(!)) made me decide to get other peoples'
>reactions to the current trend towards commercialised programs.  As far as
>I am aware most, if not all, of the programs being commercialised are
>developed using government funding (Austrian, US, etc., etc.) and with a
>committment to sharing "results".  If the results of some government funding
>is a coordinate set, we are obliged to deposit it in the PDB for all to use
>(sometimes without reference to the original work!).

    This is not so in all parts of the world.  Note that
Science and Nature are so desparate to get the hottest structures they don't
require that researchers deposit their coordinates.  J. Mol. Biol. allows
the coordinates to be put on hold for up to two years after publication.
This is not really sharing.

>  If the result is a 
>piece of code, that person feels the right to copyright it and charge
>money for it -- which doesn't quite seem to me to be sharing.

  If people want to charge money for anything that comes out of research,
then an agreement is often made between the researchers, the host institution
and the source of the money that that funded the research.  There's nothing
inherently wrong with this, as long as any publications provide enough
information for others to repeat the work.  You can't patent anything
after you've published it, can you?

>The logic behind this escapes me.

  Maybe it's something to do with the fact that commercial organisations
can often code up published methods and make money.  Why shouldn't
the people that came up with ideas make money instead?

 Sotware developed by academics is usually available free to other 
academics, especially if they're short of money.

>  It's not that I don't appreciate the lure
>of money -- but might I make a Swiftian suggestion?  Maybe the coordinate
>generators should strike back by  creating a commercial repository of
>coordinates and charging a royalty for each use?

  Judging from the lack of availability of some published structures, people
seem to think there is more money to be made from holding onto their coords.

  Having said all that, I basically agree with your sentiments.  I think
if people want to start making a lot of money from their research, they
should get out of their academic jobs.  They're going to be spending
too much of their time on business activities rather than thinking about 

Simon M. Brocklehurst
Cambridge Centre for Molecular Recognition
Department of Biochemistry
University of Cambridge

E-mail: s.m.brocklehurst at

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