The Oncomouse that roared: Resistance and accommodation to patenting in academic science

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Citation: Fiona Murray (2006) The Oncomouse that roared: Resistance and accommodation to patenting in academic science.
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): The Oncomouse that roared: Resistance and accommodation to patenting in academic science
Tagged: Sociology (RSS)


The Oncomouse that Roared is a working paper by Fiona Murray building primarily on a sociological literature on science and patenting that uses a variety of archival, bibliometric, and interview data to describe how science reacted to an important change in the way that science was owned -- represented clearly in and framed through the example of the patent on the oncomouse which was subsequently licensed by DuPont.

The paper draws on institutional theory from sociology to show how strategic action shapes institutional change. The paper sets up a "collision" between two institutions: on the one hand biological science around mouse models which had been built on a culture of sharing of specimens at very low cost or even for free, and on the other hand commercial bioscience which used patents widely and attempted to extract licensing fees when a technology was used.

Murray explains that the initial reaction to the patent in the mouse science community was to loudly denounce the patent and DuPont's attempt to enforce it -- often ignoring it explicitly and acting through civil disobedience. Meanwhile, she also shows that many mouse scientists, including many who opposed the patent, began taking out patents of their own. In the end, DuPont struck a deal mediated through the NIH that essentially exempted non-commercial academic science from the need for licensing of the oncomouse patent.

She shows that at the oncomouse debates, mouse science had essentially embraced the concept of patenting. But in the collision, it was not as simple as commercial science winning out over academic science or scientists acting hypocritically. Murray shows that in the process of adopting patenting, science changed what patenting meant. Patenting, in the mouse community, extended not to the work of non-commercial academic scientists but only to commercial entities. In her conclusion, Murray states that, "scientists incorporated patents in their repertoire of behaviors, but on their own terms."

In particular and as a mean of organizing her argument, Murray shows that:

  1. Patents took on new symbolic meaning
  2. Patents served as an alternative currency in building cycles of credit and prestige
  3. Patents became a way of shaping collaborative networks of scientists
  4. Patents served as a basis of a new social order at the academic-industry boundary
  5. Academic scientists patent and publish defensively to protect the "public commons"

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

The paper, still an unpublished manuscript, has been cited a number of times to describe the way that patenting, or intellectual property more broadly, is enacted differently in different contexts and within different institutions. It is also an excellent sociological take on a collision of institutions.

This was published in an open access journal.