I repeatedly come across the same misinterpretation from funders again and again: how can you make money out of open source bioinformatics applications?
This may sound obvious to bioinformaticians, but my experience is that this is not the case in biology-oriented circles and biologically driven proposals for funding.
I will thus explain how this can be achieved and why Open Source can be a lucrative option for industrial output and wealth creation for SMEs and big pharma.
- Open Source code can be repackaged into customised private functionalities that can address a market need. This can have added value for customers who may not necessarily want to spend their time tinkering with Open Source code.
- Open Source can provide basic functionality that SMEs/industry can extend and sell for a fee.
- Open Source allows the widest possibilities for engagement of the developer community and hence provides a better chance for the technology to become a standard and more sustainable.
- Open Source products have consistently shown that they can perform at the same level, if not better, in terms of the quality of the product they deliver.
- Open Source can at times be technically less accessible to some users (think clinicians or wet lab researchers). User support services, consultancy, and custom installations can be very lucrative (think of RedHat for Linux).
- Open Source can work at the level of precompetitive platforms from which companies can then build their own products. Think for example of the CTTV (Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation), whose objective is to bring together many pharma corporations together to provide a seamless integration of databases across the European Bioinformatics Institute that can be queried for discovery of novel targets.
- Most importantly, Open Source provides an open gateway for societal benefit where knowledge is freely shared and dissemination of key technical advancement can be freely applied without restriction. There aren’t many more better ways to generate innovation than this one.
Here are my two cents for those of you fellow bioinformaticians desperately trying to convince funders and sceptic business people who believe Open Source is only about giving for free without getting little or no value in return for the investment.