Intellectual property safeguarding in biomedical research

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14 November 2023

Research institutions have limited options to share data in collaborative projects without compromising their intellectual property.

What is the challenge with intellectual property vs. data sharing?

There is always a dilemma about intellectual property and data privacy at research institutions. When substantial datasets are analyzed, there might be consequences for potential patient outcomes, novel treatments, or patentable solutions. This is particularly true in the case of microbiome research and single-cell RNA sequencing. These areas involve the analysis of valuable data with potential applications in various industries, presenting challenges in protecting intellectual property. The same holds for regenerative medicine. There, analyzing data related to stem cells, tissue engineering, and cellular therapies involves proprietary information critical for advancements in the area.

According to the European Bioinformatics Institute, data sharing has both ethical and social implications. “It can be considered unethical to collect data and not use it to its full potential. There are societal benefits to be gained from the greater dissemination of research findings. Yet, data sharing can present a number of potential issues, especially when it involves moving data between groups, organizations, or countries.” In practice, research institutes often have a Data Access Committee or similar bodies that decide the level of access that a researcher may receive to a database. Access has to be based on ethical approval and informed consent of any research participants and has to be pseudonymized if possible. And of course, each case becomes more complicated when the data is used outside of the EU. In this case, the exchange is strictly regulated by the GDPR.

Protecting intellectual property comes with a cost

The most obvious way to protect intellectual property for a research institution is to “close its doors,” not letting anyone near their proprietary information and databases. As most research institutes are state-owned in many countries, this might lead to a mismatch between the non-profit nature of the institute and the additional benefits that the commercialization of certain new drugs, products, algorithms, or any other intellectual property would bring. It also hinders collaborative projects where several research institutes could make significant progress.

Institutes can also choose to openly share their databases, which results in greater possibilities from an ethical and societal perspective. But this cannot be done with all kinds of data without breaching EU regulations. Not only the research results, but raw data itself is the intellectual property of the researchers and their institutions. Therefore, it is crucial to find a novel solution to securely share and process data. 

How to share biomedical data in a new way

The optimal solution for the dilemma is to share data through encrypted environments and to protect the data in use. This way, bioresearch labs can collaboratively process data, like single-cell RNA sequencing data, using common data processing pipelines without compromising privacy. Check out Confidential Cloud to learn more about how it works!

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