Intellectual Property Ownership
While it varies by discipline, Intellectual Property rights present a challenging aspect of traditional science. IP is often difficult to assess in terms of its value or remains largely unused by universities and other research centers. Many individuals who possess IP do not possess a deep understanding of the complexities involved in properly registering and managing it, which can often result in the responsibility falling on the institution instead. Thus, IP is often not owned by scientists themselves.
Universities are in a unique position when it comes to patents. Ownership issues can vary tremendously when it comes to professors - it is important to consider the scope of a researcher. There is a contradiction in that knowledge is widely considered a public good, however, the IP belongs to an individual. For example - if the researcher makes use of a university laboratory for research, does the university not have the right to some intellectual property? When professors move from university to university, their research travels with them. In such instances, joint ownership issues arise. However, in most instances, professors are required to assign their rights to the school (Warenzak, 2019). While it is very prestigious for professors to obtain research grants, in most cases the benefactor will retain rights to the intellectual property that is generated from the research. This is especially true for government-funded research grants.
Web3 has proven to be particularly adept at addressing the issue of digital asset ownership, including scientific data and research papers. Through Web3, novel models for financing and collaboration can be established. DeSci idealists believe separate, specialized communities can govern various components of scientific research such as intellectual property. This can mitigate the risk of domination by a single platform and facilitate a more future-oriented approach to scientific research, adaptable to rapidly changing technologies and emerging threats. With the implementation of DAOs and NFTs, DeSci believes it can empower communities to become the new stakeholders in scientific knowledge, e.g. by IP-NFTs that can be owned by DAOs.
The problem with this concept is its implementation. For example, how does one acknowledge who was negatively cited? What is their share of the IP? Or the percentage of monetization? In the case that an article quotes an article quoting another article etc. - how do you evaluate a quote at multiple degrees of difference? Even if the goal of the DeSci movement is to more equitably share IP, how is this practically implemented?
It has been shown that scientists often face a lack of transparency and struggle to connect and collaborate globally (Shih, 2022; Bruhn, 2017) due to institutional dependencies and funding constraints (Shilina, 2023). Communication is a major hurdle in the current scientific system, with email and social media falling short of providing real-time, productive discussions among peers (Sutter, 2022). The exchange of best practices and standards is often overlooked in the deluge of academic content published, leading to lost opportunities for improvement. Lastly, science is poorly communicated to the public, resulting in a lack of public engagement and science literacy (Bubela et al., 2009). These challenges highlight the need for greater global collaboration and communication, as well as improved methods of exchanging best practices and increasing public understanding of scientific research.
By leveraging Web3 primitives, the DeSci movement claims that researchers can easily communicate and collaborate with peers from around the world, breaking down barriers to collaboration. Additionally, Web3 solutions can increase transparency and streamline the sharing of resources (Shilina, 2023). These advancements seek to bridge the communication gap that currently exists between the scientific and non-scientific communities, enabling better-informed decision-making and reducing miscommunication around scientific matters. Furthermore, DeSci claims that blockchain-based solutions and DAOs allow for greater public participation in scientific discourse, providing a means for individuals to have a real influence on the direction of scientific research.
What should be considered is that DeSci communities will be largely comprised of those already involved in the crypto sphere and the scientific community, two areas where women are hugely underrepresented (Etzkowitz, 2021), (Di Vaio, 2022). Gender inequalities, among others, have very real consequences - women’s health for example has been historically under-researched (Hamburg, 2022). It is critical that individuals making scientific decisions are representative of society as a whole.