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All content by Kyle E. Mitchell, who is not your lawyer.

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Public Domain Chroniclea fast, easy, and free way to secure scientific methods and findings for the public domain

Last year, I was privileged with the support of the BioBricks Foundation in creating Public Domain Chronicle, a combination of open-access journal, public license, open source software project, and federated open data network that makes it easy, quick, and free for scientists to secure new findings and methods for the public domain.

The BioBricks Foundation, based at Stanford, is the leading non-profit organization for synthetic biology, or programming genetic code. Public Domain Chronicle was conceived and developed as an evolution of the foundation’s groundbreaking BioBrick Public Agreement, a standardized agreement for permissive licensing of intellectual property in reusable genetic components.

BioBricks gave me the freedom to address the problem from the ground up, and to produce a general solution useful not just in synthetic biology, but other areas of science, as well. As it turns out, the underlying legal and information-technology challenges cut across disciplines. Public Domain Chronicle is both general enough for securing all kinds of work for the public domain, and adaptable enough to specific fields to make contribution easy for specialists.

The legal core of Public Domain Chronicle is the legal tool, a short, plain-language certificate, dedication, and public license:

PDC Legal Tool

Version 1.0.0

  1. I am submitting in my own name, not anyone else’s name. If I have named an affiliation, I was affiliated with that organization when the finding I have described was made.
  2. I took part in the investigation that resulted in the finding. As far as I know, I was the first to make the finding, or part of the first group to do so. If I was part of a group, I have permission to contribute our finding to the public domain.
  3. I hereby contribute the finding to the public domain.
  4. I grant everyone a license for the written material I am submitting, to do everything that would otherwise violate exclusive rights in it, under copyright and other intellectual property laws, on two conditions:
    1. No one may distribute or display changed copies without indicating what has been changed.
    2. No one may use my name or affiliation to endorse or promote products or services without specific, written permission.

This text copyright (c) 2017 BioBricks Foundation

Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies, but changing is not allowed.

The practical core of Public Domain Chronicle is the contribution form, which contributors use to describe the findings and methods they’re disclosing for the public domain, add metadata to make it easier to find via search later, and apply the legal tool to their submission.

Immediately upon submission, the Public Domain Chronicle server publishes, with a timestamp, creating prior art sufficient to forestall patent applications in most major jurisdictions. The legal tool expresses that intent, and also grants licenses necessary to share, process, index, translate, and otherwise make the most of the submission, as open data. The effect is immediate publication of enabling prior art, born as well-structured data ready for search.

BioBricks hosts a Public Domain Chronicle server with an interface made easier and more convenient for researchers in synthetic biology. The foundation has also integrated an opportunity to contribute via PDC into its 10K Genes Project.

Like the contribution form at, the BioBricks form creates submissions in a standard data format, enabling the servers to republish each other’s submissions. The result is a resilient, self-reinforcing network that disseminates, backs up, and corroborates prior art publications. It’s decentralized defensive disclosure at Internet speed, costing an order of magnitude less per server than commercial defensive publication costs per page.

My top priorities for the project in 2018 are:

  1. seeding the network with contributions from researchers, be they academics, hobbyists, community lab members, or companies

  2. connecting to corporate IP departments in science industries, to assess PDC as a superior alternative to commercial defensive publication services

  3. connecting to open-access scientific publishers, like preprint server operators, to discuss integrations allowing submitters to contribute findings described in preprints

  4. building a search interface that presents contribution data in a user-friendly way for freedom-to-operate analysts and prior art researchers

  5. longer term, connecting to USPTO and other patent search authorities to discuss integration into in-house prior art search systems

Those interested should have a look at the overview page, comparison to existing approaches, and network guide on the project homepage.

Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome by e-mail.

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