For some time now, commentators in and out of the scientific community have been expressing concern over the direction of scientific research. Cogent critics have labeled it excessively commercial, out of touch with its “pure,” public-spirited roots, and generally too much a creature of its entrepreneurial, self-interested times. In most if not all of this handwringing, the scientific community's growing reliance on intellectual property rights, especially patents, looms large. Indeed, for many the pursuit of patents is emblematic of just what is rotten in the republic of science today.
These concerns with property rights, and commercialization of science in general, spring from a number of motivations. For some, the issue is strictly utilitarian. Under this view of things, the traditional division of labor between the public and private spheres has proven so effective—contributing as it has to the development of such modern indispensables as semiconductors, penicillin, and jet transportation—that to change our approach now is sheer madness. For these observers of the latest trends in science, the changes currently afoot are a threat to kill (or at least cripple) the goose that has laid before us, like so many golden eggs, many of the conveniences we take for granted.
Others are concerned for different reasons. They express a more fundamental objection: that commercializing the heretofore noble, pure, and otherwise untainted field of science is not just poor policy, but intrinsically bad.