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Legal scholarship on intellectual property needs to be reoriented to consider how state action helps to generate the infrastructure of emerging fields in ways that prove conducive to their development. In this Article, I contribute to that reorientation through an in-depth analysis of one important emerging technology, synthetic biology. The ambition of synthetic biology is to make biology easier to engineer through standardization and associated technical processes. Early successes indicate the scientific promise of the field and help to explain why its advocates are concerned to see the field develop in an open and publicly beneficial manner. What openness might mean in the patent-dominated context of biotechnology remains unclear, however, and requires a reassessment of software’s “copyleft” concept that provided initial inspiration to the scientists and activists working on open synthetic biology. In this Article, I focus on the efforts of the BioBricks Foundation (BBF), the leading non-profit in synthetic biology, to promote the open development of the field. I explore the rationale behind the BBF’s decision to pursue a “public domain” strategy via a new legal agreement, the BioBrick™ Public Agreement.

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