Open Research and Open Data received a strong boost with the announcement of the world’s strongest policy by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. One of the provisos o the Policy is that researchers funded by the Foundation would be restricted from publishing their findings in Science and Nature or other similar journals. However, it also provides that all researchers must, as of January 2015, make all results of their papers and data sets public once they are published and that such research must be made available for commercial exploitation. The Foundation spokesman said that it would pay for the publication fees that could run into thousands of dollars but that the published research should be broadly dissimilated and put to use.

As a palliative measure the Foundation will allow a moratorium period of two years until 2017, allowing researchers a one year delay before their work goes into public domain. This is more or less similar to the open access policies defined by organizations such as the US National Institutes of Health and the UK Wellcome Trust that fund research. Where the Gates policy differs is that it could put pressure on non-OA journals where papers, once made open must be published under a licence that allows free access for any use, including commercial. This lays the works open for data mining by other researchers and for reuse in their own work or for selling such papers by third parties. Creative Commons of California describes this as a CC BY licence where the author gets credit but that is about all. The Gates Foundation spokesperson Amy Enright did clarify that the author archived articles would be made available on the same terms as the CCBY licence, after a 12 month delay.

The community apprehends that scientists will choose to publish in journals such as Nature and Science that do not immediately allow access but let researchers store peer reviewed journals online after a suitable delay ranging from 6 to 12 months and that it could force journals to put in place open access methods. Surveys also show that researchers do not welcome this idea of liberal reuse of their hard work.

The Gates Foundation has been flexing its muscles and this Policy is an example since it goes beyond what other funding agencies specify. Agencies such as the UK Wellcome Trust do insist on a CCBY license when it pays for publication but does not impose any term for publication of the archived version in a paywalled nournal.

The current situation is that non-OA publishers restrict authors from applying a CCBY licence to their open, archived manuscripts. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, Wiley, Elsevier and Nature specify in one way or the other that such manuscripts must not be made available for commercial purposes.

The policy will have considerable impact in several ways according to Peter Suber, director of the Office for Scholarly Communication at Harvard University. If publishers who do not use CCBY use it even for authors funded by the Gates Foundation, it will have some impact. The change would also be major if publishers who do not allow immediate allow open access permit it even if it is for Gates funded publications. Then there is the other impact in that some publishers would outright refuse to publish works of Gates funded authors. There may be a stand off when it comes to Gates funded authors or there could be compromises and negotiations. Eventually an arrangement could be reached as happened in the wake of NIH’s policy in 2008 with publishers protesting but eventually complying with the terms.

How severe the impact will be is questionable considering that the Gates Foundation does not fund a large number of authors with figures indicating only 2802 research articles for 2012 and 2013, a small number in comparison to NIH. 30% of these Gates funded papers were published in OA journals. Gates Foundation, it must be remembered, is strong on development projects rather than research paper funding.

Announcing a policy is one thing but enforcing it is another matter and the Gates Foundation has not made any clarification in this regard. Even the existing NIH and Wellcome policy matters are only recently being enforced. It is assumed the Foundation will track published papers and pursue the matter with recalcitrant authors. The spokesperson of Gates Foundation, Amy Enright said that the policy is in tune with current trends and that researchers will voluntarily adapt it.