There has been a dramatic increase in interest in commons in the last 10 to 15 years, from traditional commons managing the use of exhaustible natural resources by fixed numbers of people within natural borders, to global information commons, dealing with non-rival, non-excludible goods by a potentially limitless number of unknown users. The emerging global genetic-resource commons fits somewhere in between, shifting in the direction of information commons as digital-information infrastructures allow physically distributed collections to be networked in virtual global pools. In this research project we propose that networking pools of genetic resources in a global commons potentially is a workable alternative to proprietary market-based solutions, which have been shown to be unable to generate sufficient investment in the vast quantities of genetic resources that are neglected because of their unknown and/or unlikely commercial value. These neglected resources are the building blocks for future scientific research and have enormous value for sustaining biodiversity and livelihoods in developing and industrialized countries. Our hypothesis is that implementing collective intellectual property strategies and standard material transfer agreements for access to these pre-competitive research materials has become feasible in a cost effective manner through new hybrid approaches to governance which combine design features from natural resource commons and digital information commons. To substantiate these proposals, this research project will conduct a comparative institutional analysis of the use and exchange practices in the genetic-resource commons, and propose a set of governance arrangements that would put these practices on a sound legal and institutional basis.
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