March 16, 2010

The digital economy is all about the content

Yesterday I and about 100 other people attended a seminar here in London, jointly arranged by Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute (QMIPRI) and the Institute of Computer and Communications Law. The focus was the Digital Economy bill which is trying to address the ever-present issue of rights holders’ rights and possibilities for enforcement on internet.

However, the discussion yesterday circled much around if and how internet users could be cut off or suspended from their internet connection because they had been involved in illegal file sharing. The issue is an important one and I have trouble seeing the proportionality in restricting access to internet for what in many cases are small amounts of direct loss in sales revenue, which apparently is one of the suggestions in the bill. Jim Killock from the Open Rights Group, did also point out that downloading was more like trespassing than theft. This is true, but it is still illegal in the system that we have today. The discussion about changing the copyright system is partly a different and much bigger one.

I do however believe that the discussion we are having today about illegal file sharing and how to enforce it will pass over as a result of technical development and new ways of consuming content.

Carrot and stick
The industry representative, Richard Mollet of British Phonographic Industry (BPI), did go about quite hard on why enforcement was important. It was an expected point of view and he had a fair point in that enforcement is part of a system where that is the stick in one end and legal services, such as Spotify, are the carrot in the other end. Both sides need to exist.

Richard Mollet’s argument continued in the lines of that the rights holders were to scared to put out content in this uncertain environment without strong enforcement measures. This is where I do not agree.

Business model innovation
One of the first portable MP3 players was released some 12 years ago. Steve Jobs presented the first iPod in 2001. This is of course all known and the discussion about the rights holders not understanding the potential in the technology and that the old business model of selling content on physical carriers was and is outdated, that discussion is not new. What still surprises me however is the total lack of innovation in new business models and product offerings when it comes to rights intense industries such as publishing, film and music.

Intellectual property in the form of copyright is one of the most easily distributed forms of property. It lacks the need to be bundled with physical carriers, it can be packaged in various forms and the legal wrapping can be crafted in just any way.

To be fair, there are several services and platforms offering copyrighted material digitally and with consent from the rights holders. Spotify and Hulu are two examples of this.

I do however believe that there is much more that could be done, if just the interest was there. The technology is there, the consumers are there. The content is not nearly there.

The legal dimension
The issue has of course also a legal dimension, something the third speaker, Graham Smith of Bird & Bird, pointed out. It is far from certain from a legal perspective what is actually legal and what is not and how to enforce it. It is even harder from a consumer’s perspective to do this distinction. It is can be argued that this becomes the result if you let the development happen by itself and not being part of crafting the norms in the marketplace.

As I pointed out earlier, IP in general and copyright in particular are well suited to be developed in to new contractual models. The content can without any particular problem be packaged in just about any way. To look at the problem from the perspective of enforcement of content that has been distributed and copied by norms created by the users themselves, will probably almost always be messy. Especially when the behavior of consumers has been more or less accepted for over 10 years.

If the rights holders on the other hand are the directors on the distribution end and take advantage of the versatility of the content and distribution methods that could be used, I believe that the need for enforcement would be radically less and the revenues would be greater. It just takes someone to be brave enough to let go of the known models and revenue streams and focus on how to embrace the technology and meet the consumer need in a legal way.

Johan Orneblad
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March 14, 2010

Business models and open IP platforms in personalized medicine

Personalized Medicine is a frequently discussed concept in healthcare thought to hold great value for the future. Since I am currently involved in a project where the technology could provide utilities for personalized medicine while at the same time co-authoring a paper on open IP platforms, I thought that a blog post that combines the two worlds could be interesting to write - so here it goes.

What is personalized medicine and why does it matter?

Medical practice relies on evidence-based medicine - the development of standards of care based on epidemiologic studies of large cohorts - a practice that has been around more than 50 years. The rationale is that a statistical approach to large cohort studies enables reduction of background noise, i.e. ignoring individual differences in the data points. Traditionally, individual care by a medical practitioner is built on the patient's family history, social circumstances, environment and behaviors - meaning that the doctor's personal observations, skills and intuition have been crucial factors.

Personalized medicine seeks to provide an objective basis for consideration of individual differences by the systematic use of genetic information about each individual patient to select or optimize the patient's preventative and therapeutic care. A simple example would be to be recommended to take a genetic test before being prescribed a certain drug to shows whether you have a genetic profile that makes you more responsive to drug A or drug B (used for the same disease). Obviously tremendous health-economic gains could also be expected where one example is hypersensitivity to gluten (for which Phadia is developing diagnostic technology) that currently takes an average time of eleven years to diagnose in the US according to Phadia.

Two examples of business models personalized medicine could enable in the future

1. Insurance model: Let's say that you consider buying a life insurance. Obviously, it is in your best interest as well as in your insurance company's best interest that you live a long and healthy life. With the latest advances in genomics your insurance company provides you with a voucher to get your genome sequenced and get access to a web portal where you can see your genetic profile - without the insurance company having any access to your data! This means that you can make dietary and lifestyle changes to improve your chances against your genetic predisposition toward obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, etc. while lowering the risk for your insurance company. A win-win situation!

2. Diet model: Your latest cholesterol checkup suggests that you should reconsider your diet. At the dietist's office, your current diet is matched with your genetic predisposition to absorb nutrition. The results show that the diet is not the issue, it is your body that does not handle some of your daily intake very well. Consequently, your dietist recommends you to ask your doctor for drug X to enhance your nutrition absorption.

Personal Genome Project (PGP) - an Open IP Platform

The Human Genome Project provided the first drafts of nearly complete human genome sequences in 2001. This "generic" human genome sequence is now being used to advance medicine, human biology and knowledge of human origins. The available information, however, is not enough to determine individuals' risk profiles for disease. PGP - led by George M. Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School - was launched to create a platform to do just that.

The cost to extract all the information during the human genome project was close to US$ 3 billion, which has decreased all the way down to US$ 1500 per genome by now (although most sequencing companies charge US$ 30-50k to sequence a genome). PGP aims - as its first milestone - to collect genomic information from 100 000 people together with their trait information (i.e. phenotypic data such as diseases). Sample collection is entirely built on samples contributed by volunteers all agreeing on their personal information being open for access to the public, mainly providing two utilities;

  • Profiles of patients getting their genomes sequenced can compare their genetic profiles to the genotypes of risk profiles
  • Statistical correlation of the data can provide novel gene-trait associations leading to new drug targets

The platform is open in multiple layers and several IP transactions take place in an open innovation fashion. Core R&D data making up the platform is - as mentioned - donated by volunteers by collecting cells that are then cultured in cell line libraries for future reference pooled together with written trait data collected via a virtual interface. Genomic data is available for download and cell lines are available to order. Analysis of the data is conducted through open source software to ensure that users can help develop the tools in case something seems to be missing. Sequencing technology and tools are inlicensed from commercial sequencing companies. PGP is conducted at nominal cost and most of the financing is raised through donations.

So what about IP ownership? The Material Transfer Agreement states that: " i) the Provider retains ownership and title to the Materials (including any Materials contained in any Modifications) and ii) the Recipient retains ownership and title to the Modifications (except that the Provider retains ownership and title to any Materials contained in any Modifications). The Recipient is free to file patent application(s) claiming inventions made by, or on behalf of, the Recipient through the use of the Materials, but agrees not to file any patent application containing a composition of matter claim on the original Materials or an Unmodified Product.".

To me, the PGP initiative exemplifies an extremely interesting example of an open IP platform with the potential to create value for both society and knowledge based companies leveraging diagnostic tools, drugs and preventative medicine and I may come back to do a deeper analysis in an upcoming blog post.

Tobias Thornblad

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