Chocolate… Miam!


Miam!The cocoa genome has been released last week, by Mars (you know, the company producing M&M’s and suchlikes). They announced it as data released in the public domain. This sounds great! Well, it only sounds…

The press release was appetizing: titled MARS, USDA-ARS, And IBM Unveil Preliminary Cacao Genome Sequence Three Years Ahead Of Schedule, it declared that “the preliminary findings of their breakthrough cacao genome sequence and made it available in the public domain.”. A dedicated database is set up, namely the Cacao Genome Database, through which the data is publicly accessible. There are so few companies depositing data in the public domain that this declaration was a piece of news in itself. So, naturally I went to browse the Cacao Genome Database.

The website is nice, there is a tutorial how to use it as well. I click on the “About” button and read the FAQs.  But weirdly, there is no mention about licensing conditions and terms of use. In order to access the tools provided, one needs to register. Ok, why not (note that no registration is required on the major part of public databases).  So, here comes the Terms and Conditions of use part. Wait, have a look at this one:

The Provider is making available the information and data found in the cocoa genome databases for general information purposes for scientific research, germplasm conservation and enhancement such as plant breeding, technical training, general education, academic use, or personal use.

So restricted use, apparently no commercial use allowed,…

This becomes upsetting, so I go further:

The User shall not transfer the information referred to in this agreement, or any copy of them, to a third party without obtaining written authorization from the Providers which will only be provided subject to the third party user entering into this same IAA.

Now one needs an authorization to share data from the public domain with other people? Wow, nice shot.

The User shall not claim legal ownership over the information and data found in the data base nor seek intellectual property protection under any form over these information, data and data base. For clarity, the user agrees not to claim any of the sequences disclosed in these databases in any patent application.

If something is in the public domain, no patent claims are allowed, I think. Or do they have filed any patent claim before releasing the data? Why insisting on “no patent claim” now or in the future? This is weird.

As this is as well:

However, the foregoing shall not prevent the User from releasing, reproducing or seeking intellectual property protection on improved seeds or plants that may be developed using the information for purposes of making such seeds or plants available to farmers for cultivation.

It means that potential commercial use is finally allowed? If I get it right, one can sell some seeds. But it is saying the contrary to what is meant above, non?

So, in conclusion, this is not data from the public domain. However, I think it is not that cool to tease a company willing to release data in the public domain: as Stephan Kinsella wrote more than a year ago, putting something in the public domain is extremely difficult, and in some cases, impossible:

The problem is, there is no clear and good way to do this.If you use a Creative Commons license, you are actually employing the copyright the state grants you–you are putting conditions or limitations on what others may do with your works. Even if you use the least restrictive type, “Attribution,” you are requiring others to do something to avoid being liable for copyright infringement.

Why making sharing so difficult? Will Mars, Inc. and collaborators go into the real public domain release of the cacao genome sequence? To be continued…

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