I Copyleft this Crowdsourcing

Fascinating news this week about success in using FoldIt to successfully crowdsource the folding of an "AIDS-like virus enzyme".

This is a milestone in imagining a blend of human and machine skills for, perhaps, one of the biggest health related challenges we have. The technology is awesome. The human creativity is awesome. The goal is awesome.

What's striking about this story is how little is told about the fruits of this effort. My guess -- and I'm perfectly happy to be corrected -- is that the large beneficiaries of this work will be pharmaceutical companies that will patent the molecules they discover can bind to such proteins. These molecules will be the basis for very important cures. And the pharma with the patent will have a monopoly on that molecule for 20 years.

So is there even attribution for the AIDS patient who donated her time to FoldIt? Could she benefit from the medication she helped bring to market (at a reduced price)?

For many years those of us in the FLOSS community have been raising the concern that software patents do not, in fact, "promote the progress in science and the useful arts". There is growing awareness that that software doesn't pass the ยง 101 "machine or transformation test" and mathematics -- a representation of software -- is not patent-able.

The other large customers of the current patent system are big pharma. Do pharma patents promote progress? Would the drugs come to market anyway? An economic analysis of this market would be enlightening.

If the court of public opinion pushes Facebook to disclose privacy policy (and implement modest controls) doesn't FoldIt owe it to the community to at least disclose the "terms of service"?