August 2007
The Coming Revolution in Scholarly Communications & Cyberinfrastructure
Brian Fitzgerald, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
Kylie Pappalardo, Queensland University of Technology, Australia


The Creative Commons open content principles have been extended to the sharing of scientific data and publications through the Science Commons Project.12 As explained on the Science Commons website, Creative Commons licences can be used in relation to databases that attract copyright protection.13 An example of a database that uses a Creative Commons licence appears below.

Example Three – UniProtKB/Swiss-Prot Protein Knowledgebase

UniProtKB/Swiss-Prot is a protein knowledgebase established in 1986 and maintained since 2003 by the UniProt Consortium. The UniProt Consortium is a collaboration between the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics and the Department of Bioinformatics and Structural Biology of the Geneva University, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) and the Georgetown University Medical Centre's Protein Information Resource.

The data held within UniProtKB includes protein sequences, current knowledge on each protein, core data (sequence data; bibliographical references and taxonomic data) and further annotation. The database is organised through a web interface that displays the data associated with each protein sequence.

The UniProt Consortium states that the public databases maintained by UniProt Consortium members are freely available to any individual and for any purpose.

A copyright statement on the UniProtKB website states:

We have chosen to apply the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs Licence to all copyrightable parts of our databases. This means that you are free to copy, distribute, display and make commercial use of these databases, provided you give us credit. However, if you intend to distribute a modified version of one of our databases, you must ask us for permission first.


The UniProtKB open access system has been described as operating on an “honour system” on the basis that the user community is small and so accurately monitored by electronic tracking that non-compliance with the copyright licence would risk unacceptable costs in loss of reputation, peer pressure and possible denial of privileges.

2. Open Patent Licensing

Increased interest in sharing data also raises issues in relation to patents. Patents protect products and processes that are novel, useful and involve an inventive or innovative step. Patents must be registered and confer on the patentee the exclusive right to use or sell the patented product during a certain period of time (usually 20 years).

For researchers intending to seek patent protection for inventions derived from their research, a primary concern is whether they will be able to obtain a patent and whether disclosure of their data to other researchers could prevent them from obtaining a patent (because the product would no longer be “novel”). For researchers who do not intend to patent, a concern is whether another person could secure a patent over an invention that encompasses the researcher’s data.

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Reference this article
"The Law as Cyberinfrastructure," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 3, August 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/08/the-law-as-cyberinfrastructure/

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