Intellectual Property and Open

Open access (OA) is a set of principles and a range of practices through which research outputs are distributed online, free of cost or other access barriers. The main focus of the open access movement is peer reviewed research literature. Open access can be applied to all forms of published research output, including peer-reviewed and non peer-reviewed academic journal articles, conference papers, theses, book chapters, and monographs. Importantly, “true” open access requires that the content be both freely available online and that barriers to copying or reuse are also reduced or minimized by employing a Creative Commons or other open license to the work. (Open Access Module, Pathways to Open)

There are a number of challenges and benefits associated to OA publishing. The Pathways to Open section of the unit will cover many of these in detail.

For this part of the module, we will focus briefly on open sharing and the spectrum of openness, outside of the final publication, as it relates to your intellectual property.

Spectrum of Open Sharing

Publishing openly can be considered a part of a spectrum of openness. The spectrum of openness involves all the ways researchers can share their work through the entire research cycle. With the introduction of social networked technologies, network research tools, and open processes, the research cycle has the potential to be more open and participatory. Each form of social network engagement provides different opportunities to communicate but also different levels of engagement with social media technologies and networks that disperse the information.

For example, in Table 1: Degree of Openness at Different Research Cycle Stages, examples of open research sharing by audiences is described from the Social Media for Citizens and Public Sector Collaboration (Somus) and the NMR Lipids Project (NMRLP).

Table 1: Degree of Openness at Different Research Cycle Stages from the article Afraid of Scooping – Case Study on Researcher Strategies against Fear of Scooping in the Context of Open Science

The table identifies a variety of outputs for sharing during the research cycle and the tools used to share (e.g. Jaiku, wikis, Etherpad, ArXiv, GitHub, etc.). The table also identifies the audience when deciding on a research output as the choices made on where and how to share may differ depending on the audience the researchers were interested in engaging.

Decision Making for Open Sharing

Dr. Iwamoto is working with a research team that is interested in sharing their grant applications and research design, updates of lab findings during the research process, sharing their data and first report drafts, and engaging in knowledge translation to share the findings with the broader public. What should he and his team consider when deciding to share openly?

Before engaging in open sharing during the research life cycle, researchers need to think through the workflows of openly sharing their material. Openly sharing is complementary to traditional publishing processes and will add another layer of decision making, process, and activity to releasing research.

These questions will help guide you in making choices about how you engage and with what tools:

What type of engagement are you interested in developing?

One of the challenges when deciding to share openly is deciding what you will share, when you will share during the research cycle, and the tool(s) to use.  When making this decision, you should consider what is the purpose of your engagement. This could include: connecting to other scholars; sharing with the public; and gaining feedback or insight into your work.

What do I want to communicate?

Thinking carefully about what you want to say and not say about your research is important when making a decision about the open sharing workflows. Perhaps you want to share information about your research design but would like to keep private the findings of your research until the final publication. Thinking through these elements of open sharing will help you develop a plan of action.

How much time and effort do you want to put into updating and maintaining your content?

When openly sharing about your research the last thing you want to do is leave a partially developed or unfinished public space with your content. Making decisions around how much time you have for developing and maintaining your open sharing practices will help you decide what to engage in and what tools you will use. 

Tools for Sharing

For more information about the kinds of tools to use for openly sharing, review the Open Research Module on Open Software.

Research Scooping

While there are several benefits to engaging in open sharing, a major concern specifically related to intellectual property rights is the fear of research scooping. Research scooping is a term used to describe when another person publishes an idea or results of research prior to you. This is concerning to researchers who fear that the lack of novelty of their research will negatively impact the publishing prospects, particularly in high-impact journals. With open sharing, the fear of research scooping is even more pronounced for researchers as there is a sense that their intellectual property is potentially in more danger of being plagiarized or taken when it is posted online without the “protections” of a publisher.

While the fear of research scooping is a real concern for researchers, a recent paper by Hill and Stein (2019) indicates that the price for those who are scooped is not as large as perceived. Hill and Stein tracked and analyzed 150,000 structures from the Protein Data Bank, a repository that houses identified protein structures under embargo. Between 1999 and 2017, 1,630 scientists worked on the PDB structures to publish in journals once the embargoes were lifted. The research findings showed protein structures that were published second were 2.5% less likely to be published, published in journals with a lower measured impact factor that the first publication, and out of an estimated 100 citations the first paper would receive 58 and the second paper 42 (Hill and Stein, 2019).

While there are many factors that may play into the fear of research scooping, including the priorities of promotion and tenure processes, academic conventions in your field and considerations related to the potential financial benefits to your findings (e.g. patents), ownership of your intellectual property should not be one of them. If you engage in open sharing practices, the principles of scholarly integrity apply. Acknowledgement through attribution is an agreed-upon moral commitment in academia. It is the cornerstone of building upon the knowledge and contributions of others. While research misconduct, including misappropriation and plagiarism, can occur, it can occur regardless of open or traditional publishing practices. Engaging in knowledge sharing is a combination of knowing your rights as it relates to your intellectual property and entering into the practice with trust in your colleagues’ scholarly integrity.