Call to relax copyright laws

Call to relax copyright laws

Change to intellectual property laws would act as a spur to innovation, says genetics expert

Reformed intellectual property (IP) laws and the promotion of open source would fuel innovation and improve UK economic competitiveness, according to a leading genetics researcher.

Relaxing copyright laws will encourage research by allowing access to important data. And the use of open source software in government IT projects would have a similar effect on competition, said Dr Tim Hubbard, head of informatics at Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, at a debate at the British Library last week.

“In the open source model, if a project is not delivering, anyone can take the code and carry on where the previous team left off,” said Hubbard.

“We have competition at the stage where suppliers are bidding, but that is it,” he said.

The Sanger Institute uses open source technology as part of its work for the Human Genome Project, the international movement for genetic research. Open access to the institute’s database has helped fuel its work ethic, said Hubbard.

“We completely expose ourselves ­ if we stop being competitive as a project, people can take our software and work in parallel with us, and if they are better, they will win,” he said. “That puts a lot of pressure on us.”

But the advantages of the open source model in the academic world do not necessarily translate to the business sector, said Ovum analyst Phil Dawson.

“Freedom of choice can lead to an increase in complexity,” said Dawson.

“Academics and people working in the research and development sector are able to support open source components themselves. But in the commercial world, you need a contract for someone controlling the release.

“There are definitely advantages to using open source, but you must always look at the counter arguments and where the cost exposures shift.”

The open systems model can even have the reverse effect and discourage new ideas, according to shadow minister for innovation, universities and skills, Adam Afriye.

“In a historical context, it is the security of tangible property rights that creates the stability in which economic activity takes place,” he said.