BioLicense Paper by Jong Bhak

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BioLicense: an experiment of openfree license for biology

Jong Bhak

Director, Personal Genomics Institute,
Genome Research Foundation, Suwon, South Korea.
The background and philosophy of BioLicense is described. BioLicense License is a term that represents an open and free exchange of biological data, information, and knowledge among people, organizations, and companies. The philosophy of BioLicense is that all the biological objects, such as humans, animals, plants, microbes, and even computers, are information processors. Therefore, the exchange of information is fundamental all the existences in the biological universe. The consequence is that we need a principle and protocol in the interactions that makes information exchange easy and efficient. The major difference of BioLicense from other open and permissive licenses is all life forms are cooperative computing devices and hence no restriction in exchanging information is the most optimized in evolution. One major goal of BioLicense is providing unfettered innovations in mapping all the biochemical processes by scientists.
BioLicense background
The term license originally means ‘giving permission’ to licensees ( It can also be used to precluding and controlling permissions by the authors and authorities. It is questionable how precisely and fairly we can restrict permissions of diverse data, information, and media in scientific fields. Recently, there have been two major advancements in biology. One was in biological information processing by computers and the other large scale omics data acquisition by a machine such as sequencers. These are leading us to a new dimension where conventional biological information exchange license plans will not be sufficient for the maximum efficiency of networked human intelligence. Here, I introduce the concept of experimental license scheme developed in 1995.
What is BioLicense?
BioLicense, Biological information objects (Bio) License is a term that represents completely open and free exchange of biological data, information, and knowledge among information processing entities such as scientists. The basic philosophy behind BioLicense is that all the biological objects, such as humans, animals, plants, microbes, and computers on Earth, are information processors, and the exchange of information is so fundamental to everything in life, that we should make it freely available to anyone in pursuit of further understanding and development of practical uses. BioLicense in practice proposes all biological information we generate should be distributed and shared as fast as possible with minimum barriers to accelerate the discovery of molecular and cellular mechanisms. The major difference of BioLicense from other liberal licenses ( is that it is based on a philosophical view of all the life forms are cooperative computing devices and no restriction in exchanging information is the most optimized in evolution. In summary, it tries to reflect the nature of cooperative and networked biological information processing and to maximize innovation.
History of BioLicense
The term was coined to denote the importance of efficient large scale data exchange required in biology. MRC Centre Cambridge was one of the early places in computational biology and genomics. Some researchers there shared the philosophy that scientific data and knowledge need to be ‘openfreely’ accessible in order to benefit society at the maximum global level. These researchers who were involved in generating large scale biological data of structure and sequences used computers to organize and analyze diverse data types-called bioinformatics and computational biology. They knew that sharing heterogeneous biological data as freely as possible made innovation possible in science. Coincidently, in the 1990s, the internet became available worldwide. A sudden influx of biological data occurred in the internet, and many bioinformatics researchers accepted the open and sharing philosophy over the exclusive ownership of intellectual properties of data and programs. Fused with free and sharing software licenses, such as open source (, public domain, Freeware (, and Shareware (, many biological data and tool sharing license plans appeared. BioLicense is one such plan.
BioPerl and BioLicense
The first application of BioLicense was with the BioPerl project ( which also originated from MRC Centre Cambridge, UK. BioPerl has been an international collaboration primarily used by bioinformatists. BioPerl’s license which was the prototype of BioLicense was similar to Perl’s license in that it allowed anyone to use and modify the source code freely. However, there was a significant difference. The original BioPerl license allowed anyone who edited a single letter of the source code to have the full rights to change, and even sell the codes and change the license itself associated with. It meant that anyone could take the authorship and ownership of the codes and projects. This is radical as it allows anyone to take the full control over intellectual products for further modification and advancement. In practice, BioLicense was developed to nullify any type of restrictive license for Bioperl.
BioLicense follows natural information acquisition and usage
The philosophy behind BioLicense is that information processors, such as humans, acquire information without any permission from the original source and use it without any permission. For example, if a person hears a piece of news, s/he may apply it to her or his life without any permission of the broadcasting company. Also, it is based on the idea that the nature of information exchange in biology is different from engineering fields. Most biological knowledge is from nature: our genomes and brains are part of it. Biological knowledge or intellectual “properties” are based on discoveries that have been there from the beginning of life , as opposed to being inventions created by individuals.
BioLicense encourages literature copying and sharing as in open access.
In mid 1990s, the concept of open access literature sharing plan was introduced widely and was becoming popular. It resulted in a few open access commercial publishers such as Biomedcentral. An application of BioLicense was that all the literature generated by the processing of ‘publishing’ should be 100% free for anyone’s use. ‘Publishing’ makes ideas, knowledge, and information known publically so that anyone can have access to it, if there are means to do so. In this regard, BioLicense took the old tradition of book copyrights in publication. In the past, as long as one is learned and resourceful enough to copy a book, s/he could own the book. This was so ingrained in the culture that people who diligently copy the books assumed ownership of the book without paying any extra royalties to the original authors. Furthermore, often, the copying process introduced inaccuracies, additions, improvements, and corrections. This happened in the development of maps where gradually more accurate maps built upon previous ones. If cartographers had to pay royalties for old and imprecise maps, the modern expansion of knowledge would not have happened in the last centuries. BioLicense actively encourages copying and distributing.
BioLicense in terms of scientific data, DB, knowledge, and media.
As large amount of data were generated, researchers noted traditional scientific literature would be fused with large scale scientific data, such as genome sequences, and recognized the importance of data sharing and databases. Scientific data’s value has been rising due to constant integration of heterogeneous databases that resulted in intellectual properties in traditional sense. Intellectual properties can perhaps be protected if one tries very hard. However, guarding and monopolizing large scale nature-derived biological data and subsequent integrated knowledge cannot be efficient for further researches. In terms of information-content, the only difference between raw data and research results is the number of steps put into generating the data. There is no absolute and objective distinction between basic data and value-added information such as patents, designs, logos, and diverse media. BioLicense, in principle, does not distinguish data from database, information, and knowledge and it can be applied to raw data, databases, published manuscripts, programs, designs, logos, images, video, and other media. The way BioLicense manages different types of information is putting types behind BioLicense. One good example is BioLicense Genome Data as described below:
BioLicense Genome Data 1.0.
The genomic and genetic data including any personal information can be shared and re-distributed under the following conditions:
1) The donors of the genomic data must have agreed to that their genetic and personal information will be completely open, free, and redistributable for whatever purpose (including academic research and commercial products).
2) No claims on the ownership and privacy of the data will be claimed by any who donated, processed, modified, and re-distributed.
3) When data formats are changed, the changed should be listed and made public with proper version numbers to identify different sets of genome data.
BioLicense does not allow founders, originators, or creators.
BioLicenses does not acknowledge the originators, founders, or creators. BioLicense suggests that all information objects are derived from already existing objects. Only different ways of combination and synthesis are possible. Therefore, BioLicense users can always replace the founder and author names by changing existing ones. This is called the BioOriginality principle. For example, anyone who feels this article has been changed sufficiently and deleted can change the author’s name by putting his or her name. Knowledge network technology, such as the internet, has matured sufficiently, and it is possible to track any older documents, as seen in Wikipedia. Therefore, tracking the developmental history of knowledge is trivial.
BioAcademic BioLicense
  • BioAcademic License is essentially an agreement of 'honest and honorable scientific research' and a declaration that the research and development results are for unlimited sharing.
  • It is similar to CopyLeft and CopyTheft. It is a neologism based on previous plans and publically available concepts in mid 1980s, although it was not directly derived from them.
  • This is the most basic license of many BioXXX projects and allows any non-commercial entity to copy, modify, and redistribute source codes, data, information, ideas, and knowledge.
  • This does not automatically allow companies to use the data, information, and knowledge to make a profit. It requires negotiations between the academic institutes and commercial entities.
BioCommercial BioLicense
  • This lets companies to not have to reveal the sources or put So it is more flexible than most Copyleft and open source license schemes.
  • Even though it is called BioCommercial license, it is effectively fully sharing. It just gives an option for companies to earn money using BioLicense based intellectual properties without being concerned  about any legal issues.
  • In practical terms, it is the same as public domain. Companies can claim their contribution(s) to development and hence justify profit making.
BioFreedom BioLicense
  • BioFreedom license is a mutually binding license although the word freedom seems to contradict against the binding it proposes.
  • If an entity has BioFreedom, all your previous, present, and future Copyrighted and intellectual property will be perpetually free to the licenser.
  • It removes any kind of Copyrights whatsoever.
  • It is as if the licensee and licenser become one entity perpetually (like an unbreakable marriage).
BioLicense is a license plan intended to maximize information exchange by removing conventional intellectual property protection. Its practical outcome is to provide unlimited data, information, and knowledge to any information processing objects in the world. 
Callahan, Michael E.. "The History of Shareware". Paul's Picks. Archived from the original on 2008-02-02. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
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