The open-source model is an approach to product development designed to encourage the healthy growth of an industry/field and the various forms of knowledge associated with said industry/field, discouraging monopolization. It was originally used for the development of software beginning in the 1950s and gained prominence for this purpose in the 1990s. Since then, the open source model has been applied in other industries, including cannabis.
In the software realm where it had its beginnings, open source works like this: a software developer allows total access to the source code they used to develop a particular software. Other developers are free to do as they will with this code, including reviewing and changing it as they see fit for private and commercial purposes. However, they usually cannot copyright what they produce. The copyright for the source code remains with the person or company who created it. Ultimately, terms and conditions of use depend on the specific open source license.
Open source is also being used with cannabis genetics to prevent the monopolization of cultivar/chemovar genetics. However, there are a few major differences between open source in the software realm compared to open source cannabis genetics. One is the copyright.
Software developers automatically have copyright protection once they write their code. So, when they release source code to the public, the code cannot be copyrighted by others. However, cannabis breeders do not enjoy automatic copyright protection. Breeders must apply for protection by seeking a plant patent or a USDA PVP (Plant Variety Protection) certificate or seek protection under the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, all of which have tedious and lengthy requirements. These protections are exclusive by design and usually in conflict with open source.
Because of the lack of automatic protection and the nature of obtaining protection, open source in cannabis genetics is not taking off like it has in software development. Breeders don’t want to release genetic codes to the public only to see an unscrupulous individual or entity turn around and patent the plants for themselves, a fear which caused the most well-known open source project in cannabis, the Open Cannabis Project (OCP), to shut down.
The OCP did so to distance itself from its former business partner, Phylos Bioscience, who, after years of collecting genetic material and information from growers, decided to begin breeding new lines of cannabis. This decision of Phylos Bioscience produced a chilling effect on the open source cannabis movement still being felt today and upset many breeders and farmers who had previously shared genetic information with Phylos.
Open source is a healthy way to expand genetic development in the cannabis industry. However, currently, breeders remain wary about sharing their new creations due to the lack of easy copyright protection that software developers and other professionals enjoy, including artistic creations like music or film.