Proprietary Interests and Collaboration in Stem Cell Science: Avoiding Anticommons, Countering Canalyzation

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Stem Cells, Patents, Commercialization, Collaboration, Cancer Stem Cell Consortium, Anticommons, Patent Canalyzation


In this chapter I explore how proprietary interests and commercialization norms can impede collaboration in stem cell science. I begin by outlining three layers of property in stem cell science—stem cell data, stem cell materials, and stem cell patenting—and explain how they are intertwined in practice. I then present two stem cell research initiatives, the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium (CSCC) and Stem Cells for Safer Medicines (SC4SM). Using two conceptual frames, the “tragedy of the anticommons” and “patent canalyzation,” I analyze the extent to which the CSCC and SC4SM appear to address proprietary or commercialization-related impediments to collaboration. Whereas the anticommons frame, and empirical methodologies it has spawned to date, tends to capture costs imposed upon the scientific fields as a whole, patent canalyzation focuses on the individual scientist, hypothesizing that patenting and other commercialization behaviours may (re)constitute the scientific self. The chapter concludes by highlighting three intellectual property-related best practices intended to facilitate collaboration in stem cell science.