Public Domain Chronicle

How do I contribute a finding?

Contribute findings to the public domain by filling out the short publication form here on publicdomainchronicle.org, or that of another server in the PDC network.

Is PDC a good fit for my finding?

Nearly any kind of scientific finding is a good fit for PDC publication, with a few exceptions that you should keep in mind.

Computer Implementations & Creative Works

PDC publications are for opening inventions. Some inventions can be implemented in computer files, like computer programs, that might create copyrights. Some inventions are easiest to explain and describe with an implementing example. PDC publications can attach files, bringing them under the same public license that covers the description and classification of the invention. But standard-form public licenses like Creative Commons licenses and open source licenses may work better than PDC publication when users will show more interest in the content and use of the files than the description of any invention. Combining an open license with standardized metadata and hosting in a public, Internet-based repository where users are likely to look for materials of the kind can also create good prior art.

Raw Data

PDC publications are for opening inventions. Some inventions are easiest to explain with reference to experimental or other raw data, such as to characterize the product of a chemical or biological process whose structure cannot or has not been precisely determined. PDC publications can attach relatively small files, including data files, bringing them under the same public license that covers the description and classification of the invention. However, PDC is not the best tool, legally or technically, for disseminating data, especially data that records only facts or observations, without disclosing any new invention. Technical tools like Dat and legal tools like open database licenses are better suited for those noble efforts.

Restricted Information

PDC publication is publication in the fullest sense of the word. Do not publish classified information, restricted data, state secrets, or similarly sensitive material with PDC. Even if your invention itself does not fall under any of those categories, be sure not to include that kind of information in the description of any invention or any file attachments.

Am I allowed to use PDC?

Anyone can make new and important scientific inventions, and starts out free to dedicate them to the public domain. However, most scientists have at least one relationship with an academic, commercial, government, or nonprofit institution under legal rules, contract terms, and institutional policies that restrict their ability to disclose information, affect ownership of their inventions, and require disclosure of significant findings. Using any legal tool, like PDC, can create risk of legal problems under those kinds of constraints.

PDC can’t tell you exactly what restrictions apply to your or work, in this guide or otherwise. That would require reviewing all the laws, policies, and agreements that apply to you with a lawyer who knows your practice area and your local laws. But this guide can help you anticipate common situations, depending on where you do science.

Independent Scientists

Overall Risk: Low, unless aggressive terms for materials, equipment, or services apply

Independent scholars, community lab users, hobbyists, and most students working on their own typically aren’t subject to special legal rules, contracts, or policies about confidential information, trade secrets, or inventions. That independence gives independent scientists maximum freedom to use tools like PDC for the public domain.

However, some materials, equipment, services, techniques, and information that independent scientists sometimes use come along with contract terms that restrict disclosure and change ownership of intellectual property rights. At worst, these terms may be hidden in terms of service for online services and purchases.

Academic Institutions

Overall Risk: Moderate, varying with institutional policies and grant-specific terms

Scientists who are faculty or staff at public and private academic institutions enjoy well established prerogative to publish science, including science that makes new and useful methods and results known to the world. Unfortunately, that tradition has been eroded by intellectual property policies, faculty agreements, and legislation making patent protection and license-royalty-based revenue generation the default, that overreach without due thought, clarity, and protection for established scientific process.

Academic institutions in the United States, for example, are nearly all subject to the provisions of the Bayh-Dole Act, which gave rise to technology transfer offices focused on patenting and licensing faculty inventions. Scientists at those institutions typically sign policy acknowledgments or contracts committing to disclose inventions to the technology transfer office as they make them, and to assign patent rights to the institution. There are no patent rights to be assigned if publication renders an invention unpatentable, and some technology transfer offices prefer not to hear of inventions will end up in the public domain, to avoid creating records that may negatively impact patent applications and license agreements.

A few well known research institutions’ intellectual property policies give faculty the express right to dedicate inventions to the public domain:

  1. Leland Stanford Junior University
  2. Western Illinois University

Even among institutions that expressly permit public domain dedication, permission is subject to the overriding requirements of specific legal and contractual requirements that apply to specific projects, often as conditions of external funding. For example, paragraph three of Stanford’s patent policy reads:

The inventors, acting collectively where there is more than one, are free to place their inventions in the public domain if they believe that would be in the best interest of technology transfer and if doing so is not in violation of the terms of any agreements that supported or related to the work.

All academic scientists considering PDC publication should take a moment to consider what peculiar grant or contract terms might apply to their inventions, and consult their institution’s legal counsel or technology transfer office as necessary.

Academic scientists who have parallel relationships with commercial firms or nonprofits should also review those sections of this guide, too.

Government Institutions

Overall Risk: Moderate, depending on applicable policies

Scientists in government employ face a similar situation to those at academic institutions. While many countries’s laws exempt government work from some kinds of intellectual property protection, such as copyright, patent often applies, and many government bodies are active patent applicants. Under United States law, patent rights in inventions created within the scope of a government employee’s work belong to the government.

Government scientists who have parallel relationships with academic, commercial, or nonprofit institutions should review those sections of this guide, as well.

Commercial Firms

Overall Risk: High

As a general rule, scientists who take work at commercial firms sign contracts that assign ownership of inventions to their employers, obligate them to promptly disclose new inventions to the company, and prohibit them from publishing broad categories of information gathered or received at work, including information about technologies and inventions. Publishing in PDC without specific, written permission from a company officer with legal authority to make binding contracts for the company would almost certainly breach that kind of agreement, and put the employee at substantial legal risk.

Even in jurisdictions like California with statutory protections for employee intellectual property ownership of work down outside of work, without work equipment, standard form contracts for employees often go to great lengths to make separating personal from employee work procedurally and substantive difficult. Even employees who feel they can make a strong case that work is there own often find themselves unable to withstand lawsuits brought by current of former employers to secure rights in valuable inventions arguably related to work.

While practices and even legal terms at smaller companies tend more toward openness and informality, especially when scientific or technical personnel occupy high positions, scientist-entrepreneurs and commercial scientists of high corporate rank are often subject to additional, unwritten legal rules flowing from their station. Officers, directors, stockholders, and others with more than simple employer-employee relationships with a firm may have broad, fiduciary duties to one another and the firm as a whole that apply to conduct affecting intellectual property and confidential information.

All that being said, commercial firms are heavy users of defensive publication services and journals, both as publishers and prior art researchers, as well as of open licenses and other permissive intellectual property tools benefiting the public commons. PDC publication offers many similar benefits, and some new ones. However, as a general rule, decisions to use of PDC for publication of company inventions should almost always taken at the company or company-counsel level, rather than by individual employees, in keeping with defensive publication practice before PDC.

Nonprofit Organizations

It is very difficult to generalize the legal environment of nonprofit organizations, because they vary so widely. Scientists at nonprofit community labs or research centers may be subject to few if any relevant rules, like independent scientists. Nonprofits may also have policies and legal requirements like those of academic institutions, and many academic universities are indeed nonprofit. However, even tax-exempt nonprofits may engage in contract or other relationships that utilize commercial terms and approaches, related or unrelated to the purpose of the nonprofit.