Without a focused direction and a specific organization in charge and shouldering responsibility for development, the genetic product can just as quickly innovate explosively as become neglected and die.
Despite the ruling by United States Supreme Court that human genes cannot be patented, the war between open- and closed-source synthetic biology continues to rage. Both sides make compelling arguments. Those who are for the ability to patent genomes are primarily and understandably interested in protecting their investment in producing their genetic code. Those against the ability to patent new technologies and genomes claim that open-sourcing new technology results in a distributed and more innovative creative environment. As companies like Genome Compiler continue to democratize creation, it is becoming easier and cheaper to sequence code and create new living things.
A genetic code is essentially a program. Like computer programs, genetic software needs to be constantly updated and maintained, or it becomes obsolete. In our current Internet 2.0, the vast majority of the Internet is composed of user-created content.
The current binary programming environment provides a compelling analogy. An example would be if all Samsung Apps were closed-source and created exclusively by Samsung. Their relatively small software development department would be crushed by the millions of worldwide DIY software developers with great ideas and ambition. If a pharmaceutical company were to do the same thing and disallow anyone from tinkering with their design, they risk being quickly and deservedly wiped out by the worldwide development market using open-source genetic software such as Genome Compiler.
However, the danger of a completely open-source environment is that there is no one individual or company in charge of the forward movement of the product. Without a focused direction and a specific organization in charge and shouldering responsibility for development, the genetic product can just as quickly innovate explosively as become neglected and die.
Stringent patent laws for intellectual property risks driving the whole industry underground, like when the music industry’s copyright laws were never updated to reflect the rise of the Internet, leading to rampant piracy. As we begin to unlock the code of life itself, we have to update our perception of property and copyright to reflect the realities of this brave new world.