In December of 1999, after digesting three months of public comment on a preliminary draft, the National Institutes of Health released the final version of a policy entitled "Principles and Guidelines for Sharing of Biomedical Research Resources."1 The policy advises NIH grantees on, among other things, the appropriate way to disseminate unique research tools--everything from cell lines to reagents to animal models to laboratory equipment to computer software--that arise out of grant funding. It also calls on industry and the not-for-profit medical research community to accept similar practices.

As both a huge provider and user of research tools, the NIH wants to promote greater unencumbered tool sharing in the private and public sectors. Still, some biotechnology companies and even some university licensing officials remain leery, fearing that the guidelines could be or become too restrictive.

The NIH claims that the guidelines are the most recent incarnation of a long-standing...

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