The Lens: Questions and Answers with Professor Osmat Jefferson

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Back in June, at the Seventh International Meeting for Synthetic Biology, I had the opportunity to speak with Professor Osmat Jefferson from Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Professor Jefferson is seconded to Cambia, a global non-profit organization. Its mission is to create a more equitable and inclusive capability to solve problems using science and technology. Cambia is founded by the leading molecular biologist and social entrepreneur Richard A. Jefferson.

The Lens is an extension of Cambia’s early initiatives, Patent Lens, which was launched in 1999 and aimed at making the global patent knowledge more transparent. Currently, The Lens is a free, open and secure platform that merges global patents and research literature along with other patent metadata. Biotechin.Asia’s article describing The Lens and the new QUT In4M Ranking system can be found here.

About Professor Osmat Jefferson

Professor Osmat received her PhD from Cornell University, and BSc and MSc from the American University of Beirut.  She had also previously worked in the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and in a USAID project with Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic through a bean/Cowpea CRSP project.

Professor Osmat also has a Masters in International Law from the Australian National University in Canberra.  Her thesis focused on the accountability and transparency mechanisms in the internal laws of International organizations.  She currently holds full-time research professorial appointments in both the Faculty of Science & Technology and the Faculty of Law at QUT.

What were the early days of setting up Patent Lens like?

Back in 1998, in response to the furor about transgenic technologies, the confusion regarding biotech patent thickets, and the lack of a clear policy by the international biotech community, Cambia began building an IP resource to provide evidence-based tools and guide policy decisions in that space.  To do so back then, Cambia had to buy the image files of the patent documents from various jurisdictions, render them machine and text searchable and offer them to the public.

Luckily later on, through open government data policies**, the information became accessible and enabled Cambia to expand on its services from biotech patents to cover all research fields.

In 2006, Cambia offered the first patent sequence search facility, a service that many patent offices still do not offer but that is essential to understand the scope of patent rights sought and granted on genetic sequences.

As gene patents have been among the most contentious, and poorly understood IP rights, in 2011, we decided to survey the disclosure practice of many patent offices around the globe vis a vis patent sequence data access and use and through their help and support, we built the world’s first comprehensive and public patent sequence database with state of the art navigation tools. Just look for PatSeq toolkit in Lens.org.

**Author’s note: Open government data policies include datasets from the United States, European Patent Office, Australian Patent Office and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Have there been developers utilizing The Lens who are working on notable projects?

We have strict privacy policy and unlike Google wherein they track your usage of the page, we do not monitor who is using the Lens unless someone writes and let us know about their project.  From direct correspondence, we are aware that many patent examiners, IP practitioners, small firms, tech transfer offices, and information specialists use our site. For example, for the Cancer Moonshot Challenge, USPTO listed the lens as a potential source of open data.  The Lens, was also used for several IP access to medicines studies in India and bioinformatics studies in Europe and China.

Have there been obstacles that The Lens and Cambia faced with regards to opposition from other organizations who do not share the same vision of democratizing Biotech innovation?

Considering that our work is against the mainstream and we offer open and free services, over the years we struggled to scale up these services and develop open APIs to share the Lens data.  However, with these challenges, we have persisted and, trusting in our mission, provided a continuous service for the last 16 years. Here we would like to acknowledge as well the support we recently received from Queensland University of Technology to expand Lens.org along with many other institutions, foundations, and industry partners who believe in open access and use of innovation data.

What is in the pipeline for The Lens?

With more interactive and dynamic capabilities, including non-patent literature and technical metadata, the Lens is building an open and integrative base for innovation cartography.   Innovation cartography encompasses mapping the linkages between the various knowledge silos to empower a broader set of problem solvers to innovate and solve their own problems.

What are your hopes for the global biological innovation landscape?

Our hope is that the public research community realizes that good science is only a part of the jigsaw puzzle of innovation.  Other capabilities and components need to be envisioned and integrated into the initial planning/design to ensure societal and economic impact.  To achieve that, the community will need evidence-based tools that join and integrate various knowledge silos, guide decision making, and expose opportunities that align with the societal mission.

Any advice for those who wish to contribute to democratizing innovation?

If you are serious about this goal, we welcome your contribution, investment and collaboration in Lens.org. The more aligned our missions are, the better chance we have to succeed.

Professor Osmat Jefferson’s presentation at SB7.0 in 2017 can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/album/4675596/video/225383768

Biotechin.Asia’s article describing The Lens and the new QUT In4M Ranking system can be found here.