- What is the BioBrick™ Public Agreement?
- Why do we need a BioBrick™ Public Agreement?
- Is the BPA a license, such as the GNU Public License (GPL) developed by the Free Software Foundation?
- Why didn’t you want to go for a license like with computer software?
- So what’s in the BPA contract?
- That’s it? So, what’s being contributed exactly?
- Where do I send my materials?
- What do you mean by “free-to-use?”
- What kind of “materials” or “genetic functions” can be contributed under the BPA?
- Will all existing BioBrick™ parts be covered by the BPA?
- What if I don’t have a BioBrick™ part number for my material(s) but still want to contribute something under the BPA?
- Why do I keep hearing about the BPA when what I see on the website are two separate agreements, a Contributor Agreement and a User Agreement?
- What is the “public domain” mentioned in the Contributor Agreement?
- Is institutional sign-off required to make a Contribution?
- Is the BPA “viral”?
- Can I patent something that uses BPA-contributed parts?
- Will the BioBricks Foundation own the parts that I contribute?
- Why does the BioBricks Foundation use a trademark right?
- What if I have a different question?
Q: What is the BioBrick™ Public Agreement?
A: The BioBrick™ Public Agreement (BPA) is a free-to-use legal tool that helps you and others create and share the freedom to use genetic parts. The BPA was developed for sharing the uses of standardized, genetically encoded functions (e.g., BioBrick™ parts) but, in practice, can be used to make free the sharing of any genetically encoded function that you might already own or make anew.
Q: Why do we need a BioBrick™ Public Agreement?
A: The mission of the BioBricks Foundation is to make biology easier to engineer so as to benefit all people and the planet. Today, it is difficult to share and reuse genetically encoded functions due to high transaction costs associated with patent-based licensing (i.e., time and money). We aren’t against patents per se. But, we believe that biotechnology must move towards a free-to-use “dictionary” of biological functions that allow many people to benefit from all the potential creative and constructive uses of biology. Communities of innovators have long collaborated in creating common wealth resources in ways that benefit all, but typically need tools and practices to do so. There are few tools that help people to partner in biotechnology in achieving more than any one person or organization can alone. We therefore decided to develop some of the needed tools.
Q: Is the BPA a license, such as the GNU Public License (GPL) developed by the Free Software Foundation?
A: The BPA is a scaleable contract among parties, not a copyright-based license. A license is between someone who owns intellectual property (such as copyrighted software) and someone else who licenses the property on some set of particular terms (such as those of the GPL). By contrast, the BPA is a contract between one person who wants to make a genetically encoded function free to use and someone else who wants to use it freely. As a second major difference between the BPA and the GPL, there is no required “give back” or “viral” clause in the BPA.
Q: Why didn’t you want to go for a license like with computer software?
A: Many reasons. First and foremost, in genetic engineering we don’t generally expect most people to have the intellectual property rights necessary to support licenses. For example, the now-dominant form of intellectual property in biotechnology isn’t copyright but patents. And, unlike copyright, patents have high transaction costs. For example, you have to apply for a patent. Consider the first public-facing repository of standardized, genetically encoded functions, the MIT Registry of Standard Biological Parts. There are over 10,000 parts in this repository, and it keeps growing. To patent each of these parts would already cost tens of millions of dollars: if you gave a would-be engineer of biology that much money he or she would probably use it to make better parts. In short, it wasn’t straightforward for us to draft something for biotechnology that used the same property right mechanics now typical of software licensing. Once we stopped thinking about a “licensing” approach based on intellectual property rights, we found that a “contracting” approach works better.
Q: So what’s in the BPA contract?
A: The contract is pretty simple. At its heart, one person (whom we call the “Contributor”) makes an irrevocable promise not to assert any existing or future intellectual property rights over something against the other party to the contract (the “User”). The User in turn promises a few simple things, such as to provide attribution to the Contributor, where requested, and to respect biological safety practices and applicable laws.
Q: That’s it? So, what’s being contributed exactly?
A: What’s being contributed is immunity from the assertion of intellectual property. The Contributor makes an irrevocable promise not to assert any intellectual property rights held by the Contributor against Users of the contributed genetic functions. Why that matters is that it means the contributed genetic functions—say, a BioBrick™ part—becomes free to use for anyone who’s signed the BPA.
For example, suppose some genetically encoded function is under patent. If the use of that function is contributed under the BPA, the patent-holder promises not to assert patent rights against anyone who signs the BPA. Thus, that function becomes “free-to-use” for all Users. Or suppose that some genetically encoded function is not (yet) under patent; by making it “free-to-use” under the BPA, the Contributor promises that any future rights he or she acquires over the function in question cannot be used against anyone who’s signed the BPA.
Q: Where do I send my materials?
A: You don’t need to send any materials in order to make a contribution. Your actual contribution is the irrevocable promise not to assert property rights that might restrict uses of the contributed genetically encoded function(s). The online act of completing a BPA Contributor agreement produces a time-stamped digital record of your contribution. Given ongoing advances in DNA synthesis, simply having the DNA sequence information and the freedom to use the function(s) encoded by the sequence readily available is enough for others to immediately benefit from your contribution. For more complicated parts that would be difficult to re-synthesize at present, you may also want to coordinate the deposition of physical materials with one or more strain or parts collections, such as the Parts Registry or the Yale-based E. coli stock center.
Q: What do you mean by “free-to-use?”
A: We mean that any Contributor-held intellectual property rights that might be used to limit the use of the contributed materials will not be asserted against Users of the materials.
Q: What kind of “materials” or “genetic functions” can be contributed under the BPA?
A: The BPA is optimized for use with contributions-of-use for genetic material that have been refined and standardized in accordance with one or more BioBrick™ standards. These technical standards (which are themselves free to use and improve) include physical assembly standards, reference or measurement standards, functional composition standards, and data exchange standards. However, the use(s) of any genetically encoded function can be contributed via the BPA.
Q: Will all existing BioBrick™ parts be covered by the BPA?
A: The BioBrick™ Public Agreement does not apply retroactively to all BioBrick™ standard biological parts. Existing or new parts must be expressly contributed under the BPA to be covered.
Q: What if I don’t have a BioBrick™ part number for my material(s) but still want to contribute something under the BPA?
A: You can use the field for the part number on the web form to enter nucleotide sequence and descriptive information, or upload that information as an attachment containing this information as a PDF. Please include any other information, including uses of your contributed materials and any compatibility with one or more BioBrick™ technical standards that might make it easier for someone to use the part that you’ve contributed.
Q: Why do I keep hearing about the BPA when what I see on the website are two separate agreements, a Contributor Agreement and a User Agreement?
A: What we call the “Contributor Agreement” and the “User Agreement” together comprise the BioBrick™ Public Agreement. In order to allow our community to scale online, we have separated the BPA into two constituent agreements—two sides of the same coin. If you want to give a part to the community, you can execute the Contributor Agreement, making your materials free-to-use for anyone who is signed up under the User Agreement. And if you sign the User Agreement, you can freely use the whole collection of parts given by many different Contributors. There are many reasons behind this particular legal architecture, discussed here, most of which have to do allowing the BPA framework to scale across many parts, Contributors, and Users.
Q: What is the “public domain” mentioned in the Contributor Agreement?
A: Creative works and inventions are considered to be in the “public domain” if they are not covered by any current intellectual property rights (such as patent or copyright). If you are making a Contribution because you wish to place the contributed materials in the public domain generally, click that option at the beginning of the Contributor Agreement.
Q: Is institutional sign-off required to make a Contribution?
A: Sometimes, for example, if your terms of employment would require such sign-off. The BPA is explicit on this point, where a Contributor is asked if such institutional sign-off is required. However, some institutions support direct contributions to the public domain if the employee-inventor decides that such a contribution is in the best interest of technology transfer.
Q: Is the BPA “viral”?
A: No. Users of BPA-contributed parts are not required to “give back” any other genetic components that they might combine with BPA-contributed parts. The BPA is thus different from “copyleft” licenses found in free software.
Q: Can I patent something that uses BPA-contributed parts?
A: Yes. Novel materials and applications produced using BPA-contributed parts may be considered for protection via conventional property rights. Of course, it’d be great if you chose to give something back via the BPA.
Q: Will the BioBricks Foundation own the parts that I contribute?
A: No. You decide who owns or can use your parts. By contributing a part under the BPA you are enabling others who agree to the BPA User Agreement to freely use the parts that you contribute. The BioBricks Foundation is not a party to this agreement.
Q: Why does the BioBricks Foundation use a trademark right?
A: The BBF hold trademark on uses of the word “biobrick” in order to protect its free-to-use and open technical standards and legal framework. As a government recognized public-benefit organization the BBF has no intention of proﬁting from these public-beneﬁt services.