As companies are increasingly interested in completing research in the U.S. National Laboratory on the international space station, intellectual property laws are giving some of them reason to pause and consider the ramifications of this decision.
Zero Gravity Solutions Inc. wants to conduct such space research, for example, according to Space News. The research would be devoted to producing plants that can survive harsh conditions, such as citrus trees immune to the cold and corn resistant to drought. If the company were to create these plants on Earth, it would have 20 years of exclusive control over the discoveries it made. However, if they had research success in space, the company would have only five years of exclusive rights over its creations.
Under the usual terms of an agreement with NASA to use the U.S. National Laboratory on the international space station, researchers give the U.S. government the right to use their results and inventions after those first five years. While this provision of the agreement can be reviewed and changed on a case-by-case basis, many fear the corporate research world will find this too much of a roadblock to surmount.
"We would like to encourage more research on the international space station, especially by people working through CASIS to look for commercial applications," Courtney Graham, NASA associate general counsel for commercial and intellectual property law, told Space News. To that end, NASA is looking to alter its standard intellectual property agreements for cases of this nature.