Is using open source technology any different from putting the technology into the public domain?

Open access to information "in the public domain" does not guarantee open capability to use it, for several reasons.

The fact that information is published or "open access" does not mean that it is in the public domain.  Often, technology is published only after patent applications are filed.  We'd like publishers of technology to be transparent about the conditions under which the technology is available, but most often they are not. 

Even if information is truly placed in the public domain, it may not remain available for all public uses.  For example, significant portions of the human genome, though published, have become covered by patents for diagnostic tools.  Because patent monopolies can support high prices and effectively reserve these tools for rich markets, many diagnostic tools are effectively unavailable to the world's uninsured.

Any useful information placed into the public domain can be quickly seized upon and developed into patentable products by the large companies who can afford to do so.  For example, the rice genome project placed masses of information into the public domain. Private companies in the developed world with modern labs and computer equipment were able to take this information and quickly move it into patent applications over genetic markers, targets for herbicides, specific genotypes related to nutrition, fiber quality, and so on. The rights to much of the technology have now largely been acquired by a few multinational corporations.  Meanwhile, small and medium-sized enterprises that lacked immediate capacity to make use of such information, particularly enterprises based in developing countries, were effectively locked out.  Individuals are usually not able to make use of the information either. 

The fact that public funding was used for the technology does not guarantee a public right to use it, either.  There are many examples of technology now essentially unavailable to all but the wealthiest, even though developed primarily with public funding! Much of biotechnology, including the fundamental enabling tools of agricultural biotechnology, much genomic information, and much of the chemistry underlying pharmaceuticals falls into the category of having been developed largely with public funds, but unavailable for use in products except by certain multinationals.

In contrast, placing technology under the equity-based provisions of BiOS Licenses enables individuals and enterprises of all sizes and in any location to benefit from use and improvement of technologies by agreeing to the license terms.

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