When the Interoperable Informatics Infrastructure Consortium debuted this spring at the BIO 2001 conference, founding members promised an agile and swift alternative to the historically sluggish standardization process.
But the I3C’s bylaws, expected in September, are still not in place — a fact that has effectively stalled the group’s progress and raised questions about its effectiveness compared to other standards groups.
I3C organizers, however, say that the delay, while unexpected, has been for the best. “The governance has not made as rapid progress as we had hoped, mainly because of the need to consider IP issues in the membership agreement and to have an agreement on all of these matters between some fairly large companies,” said Tim Clark, vice president of informatics at Millennium Pharmaceuticals and a member of the I3C’s technical architecture and governance working groups. The by-laws were drafted as originally scheduled, Clark said, but lawyers from the individual member organizations have been scrutinizing them for months. “You can imagine that it has been a little bit of an involved process,” said Clark.
FULL STEAM AHEAD
The bottleneck was finally broken last week, as the members of the I3C governance committee were able to reach agreement on some key issues. A conference call is planned for this week to finalize the IP language and review any remaining glitches in the I3C’s governance documents.
Clark said he’s confident that any remaining governance issues will be resolved by the end of the year, the group’s by-laws will be set in place, and “we should be incorporated in the new year as a non-profit with a pretty significant founding board of directors and moving ahead.”
The delay, while disappointing, was necessary, said I3C organizers, due to the complicated IP landscape generated by the involvement of Sun, IBM, Oracle, Millennium, and other members.
Several sources noted that IBM and Sun were the principal players in the IP negotiations.
While each of the individual organizations involved assigned its own lawyers to pore over the draft by-laws, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which has shepherded the I3C’s activities so far, has retained the Washington, DC, law firm of Hogan & Hartson to help draft the final governance documents.
The IP question is not a trivial matter. While “it would be a fairly simple process to converge on web service protocols,” Clark said the I3C intends to address other aspects of interoperability that could be perceived as risky by I3C members.
“So for example,” said Clark, “under what conditions does the IP of company A that’s submitted as the basis for a standard either pass into the public domain, or pass into the ownership of I3C, or be retained by the submitting company?”
Application interfaces, licensing, and royalties have generated some of the biggest questions, according to Clark. “You end up having to put a lot more stuff on the table for discussion than you had anticipated,” he said.
Jeff Augen, director of solution development at IBM, noted that IP agreement was a more complex undertaking for the I3C as opposed to IT-based standards bodies, “because IT companies and biotech companies have completely different ways of using IP.”
Sia Zadeh, group manager of Sun’s life sciences division, added that despite the inconvenience of the delay, it’s better to resolve any IP questions ahead of time, “rather than after the fact.”
NUTS AND BOLTS
Clark added that despite the holdup on the logistical end of the I3C’s efforts, the technical architecture group has made a great deal of progress, which will allow the group to hit the ground running once the governance papers are finalized. “We’ve moved ahead as far as we could without an IP agreement,” said Clark.
Representatives from Millennium, DoubleTwist, the Whitehead Institute, Oracle, IBM, Sun, and INCOGEN have been involved in the technical architecture work. “It’s all built confidence and technological buy-in and common thinking,” said Clark.
The technical architecture group has been hard at work preparing what they call TD1 — the genomics use case — and finding a common ground for representing genomic sequence. Clark said that it’s almost certain that the group would converge the AGAVE and BSML XML standards for representing genomic data supported by DoubleTwist and LabBook, respectively.
Morrie Ruffin, vice president of business development at BIO, agreed with Clark on the possibility that recommendations from the technical working group would likely emerge soon after the start of the new year. In addition, he said, new working groups are planned that will focus on specific application areas, such as gene expression, proteomics, and other topics relevant to drug discovery.
“It’s taken a little while, but there’s some issues that had to be worked through in order to make sure that we had consensus,” said Ruffin. “Everybody’s been very cooperative in the process.” Ruffin noted that in addition to the original founding members of I3C, “several” new members had been included in recent weeks to review the governance documents as founding members.
While around 70 organizations have participated in the I3C through its working groups and other activities, the founding board of directors so far includes BIO, IBM, Sun, the National Cancer Institute, Millennium, the Whitehead Institute Genome Center, and Celera.