Category Archives: Medical Innovation and the GNU GPL

Medical Innovation and the GNU GPL

It had never occured to me that Medical Clinicians and Practitioners might see the need to make their own innovations freely available to their colleagues. However, that is the case I am here to discuss today. It does seem that there is still a spirit of community alive within the Medical field. That community desire to share is not so different, nor should it be strange to the hacker community.

Why should it be strange that a sense of the necessity for sharing should be prevalent in other communities beyond the computing and online fields? Sharing, after all, is a human trait.The desire to help a fellow human being, involved in a similar quest, whether for knowledge or simple self-discovery, is natural. However, in the medical field, the quest for knowledge can affect the masses, and can reap beneficial rewards for us all.

I have come across one such example in the Medical community, a person whose name I shall not divulge, simply out of an abundance of caution for their personal privacy. We were chatting by phone, when he asked me a rather interesting question. The question was simple, yet well put, for it is something that I discuss quite often – the spirit of sharing information.

It seems that my friend has designed a rather ingenious method of establshing a display of data which can be shared for the management of research. He has run into a problem, for he would like to see that his team can retain credit for their work (a copyright would seem to do take care of that part), but would also desire to ensure that this work never be made proprietary. It is their desire to ensure that this innovation be able to be shared among the Medical community without being taken by some organization and removed from the public domain where no one can benefit from this innovation.

Needless to say, the suggestion warms my heart, for it makes me understand that there are many who are willing to share information, and are seeking ways to do the greater good for society. I would be remiss in my duty here if I did not say “Bravo!” to my friend, for his bold effort to seek ways to enable the oublic good to be served. After all, can you imagine a world in which research is actually a crime because someone has deemed that they own all rights to a certain organ and or its genetic structure? What would be illegal next? The study of Mathematics or perhaps English? There is a deep injustice done when men are prevented from sharing knowledge to help their fellow man. I applaud he and his team’s efforts to make a difference in society.

My question then to the community (and I am not a lawyer – sorry, no geekspeak here, for I want my friend to know and understand the depth of my gratitude for his
efforts), is this: can the GNU GPL cover such things as Medical innovations in software? Would something of this nature developed in Open Office be able to be copyrighted and protected under the GNU GPL and kept within the public domain?

Perhaps the greatest problem my friend faces is the likelihood that someone would come
along and try to make the innovation a part of a proprietary program and remove all benefit from other researchers. That act would destroy the goals of research, and make a mockery of their effort to share information.

If you can advise, please share your comments. You would be helping not only me, but all of us as well. I would deeply appreciate a well-reasoned response that I can convey. Thank you.