Should I just give all my ideas away? The perils of collaboration and why I want to be open pt I.

I was reminded of a comment at Science Online 2012 when someone (and I apologize I could not get their name – please let me know if you read this)  mentioned that it would be great if there was somewhere they could put all their ideas online and just share them. Some people have far too many ideas that they will never be able to pursue them all. I do not think that I am any different. Some are good, some are real stinkers. Some I can act on and many I need to find the right people to reduce them to practice. However, if I come up with an idea, write it down on paper, I want to get recognition for it even if I do not reduce it to practice. I understand that If I write something I have copyright until I sign it away to a closed access publisher or I could go open access and retain my copyright. Does it matter if someone steals your idea anyway, or what is the difference between borrowing it and just not crediting you, or passing it off as their own.. haha plagiarism you shout but what if the idea is not published its just an email, a discussion over lunch, a phone call etc?? How does a scientist retain some ownership of their ideas in these different media. I am sure many of you have confronted some if not all of these problems at some point in your careers – what did you do?

I feel the only currency I have is my ideas and most of the time I write these down or present them in talks. I am passionate about ideas, some ideas I get super passionate about. The last decade I have probably been in my “idea prime”..but its been a roller coaster ride and sometimes uncomfortable. Here are a few vignettes on my ideation journey.

1. 2004 I join a tiny company and almost immediately I use my ideas to visualize QSAR predictions in the context of the proteins on a network which leads to a phase II SBIR and a patent application and of course many publications. So I get the grant and they no longer needed me. But I owned a single digit percentage of the company so when they were bought a few years ago I did OK – made up for the grant on balance.

2. 2006-2008 I write and win several phase I SBIR and STTR grants as PI for an even smaller university start up and have lots of ideas..Ultimately I have to take legal action because they did not pay me per a contract when a grant was awarded. Settled after 2 years, for what I asked for initially and probably cost as much in legal fees.

3. 2009 I visit Pfizer to talk about a product belonging to a company I consult for has, but end up having the spur of the moment idea that perhaps they should try using open molecular descriptors and algorithms and compare to commercial tools with their ADME data. This leads to Pfizer doing the study and a nice paper. The company I consult for got a phase I SBIR out of this idea of model sharing based entirely on the Pfizer proof of concept and paper.

4. 2009  A publisher asks me for journal idea..they do not respond to me but go ahead and start the journal anyway.. no acknowledgement until 2 years later they sort of apologize. I now feel if publishers cannot even come up with ideas for journals they should just get out of Dodge.

5. 2011 I sit in a conference and mention the green solvent data in a Tweet and a few emails later Alex Clark agrees to develop the green solvents App. I could not have done it myself but having the idea and putting it out there enabled Alex to do it. He reduced it to practice.

6. Summer 2011 I am on a gotomeeting with another scientist who has a dataset in the same software as me and I see an overlap with a particular dataset of my own. Immediately I come up with an idea for a phase I SBIR (submit it Dec 2011) and a potential new approach to predicting a toxicity. Hope it will be scored AT LEAST.

And this just goes on..and on..These are just select examples to suggest what is possible..and of course I have to hide a few details to avoid upsetting folks. But I get excited about ideas and that Eureka moment just might occasionally happen under the right circumstances (so you ask what are they?).

Example A. This past month has seen the Open Drug Discovery Teams mobile App go from idea on slides – to prototype, presentation in the UK at an open meeting and now today I have used the alpha version of the software. For me this is a great example of how having an idea led to a great collaboration with Alex Clark who really brought it to life. The idea came about because an opportunity presented itself at the Pistoia Alliance Board meeting to think about some transformational service for the pharma. I had been primed by attending several conferences and talking to people about problems. 1. Partnering for cures instilled the idea that there were lots of rare diseases with researchers not coordinating and with patients in the dark. 2. Science Onlince 2012 raised the idea of data overload and 3. I had started using Flipboard to pull together social media streams. Result = a Flipboard type app that pulled disease related topics together to create a virtual drug discovery team..this idea is still young but I am super excited about the trajectory.

Example B. I have had several lunch meetings this past week to think of grant ideas with a client even though I have no contract stipulation to come up with ideas. Actually I surprised myself and in the 3 meetings I think I came up with at least a good idea in each = an idea worthy of an SBIR grant. Of course I do not have the time to write them all up, but believe me I own those ideas. I found my attention span is an hour, anything more and my concentration wavers.

I will give more examples in due course in pt II. So I will end part I by saying should I just make all my ideas open? especially anything related to rare and neglected diseases? Should I just post them here? That way perhaps it would prevent some of the issues in paragraph 1. Alternatively, are there any VC’s or companies that need good ideas perhaps you had better get in touch before my idea well runs dry. Of course you should be good at listening as I think I may safely say that the best ideas come when there are at least 1-2 people to bounce them off and help refine them.

I like to work with people I feel comfortable with and open about sharing ideas. If its not a 2 way street forget it.







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