Embrace open source philosophy, Kalam tells scientists, researchers

The concept of Free Software, wherein knowledge is created by the community for the community, without being driven by commercial interests, must be extended to research to solve problems in health care, agriculture, energy and safe drinking water, the former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, said.

He was speaking at the inauguration of the three-day National Convention for Academics and Research on ‘Computing freedom for technology, education and research,' organised by the Free Software Movement of India (FSMI), a national coalition of regional free software movements, on the Mahindra Satyam campus here on Thursday.

Mr. Kalam implored scientists, researchers and academics to embrace the ‘open source philosophy' in their respective fields, and work towards building ‘open source networks' that can help pool talent, research and know-how from around the world. Such a platform can help evolve scientific solutions to problems, particularly those relevant to developing countries.

“Why don't Free Software movements come together to create a network of experts to work on providing free drinking water,” he asked the audience.

A valuable open source movement initiated in the Indian health care sector is the Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD), a consortium led by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

In the wake of the failure of market forces in this sector, the OSDD is exploring new models of drug discovery and looking at innovative patent regimes, Mr. Kalam said.

“Market forces discourage research-based pharmaceutical companies from developing drugs for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis or malaria that predominantly affect the developing world. It would be naive to expect drug discovery for infectious diseases to become a lucrative standard business model,” he explained.

So where the existing patent-driven models have failed, the OSDD provides an alternative way of looking at Intellectual Property as a tool of research.

“It is currently working on optimising a patented molecule as a drug. OSDD plans to use this patent to ensure the drugs are affordable in the market, by ensuring non-exclusive licensing. This is an innovative way of using patents to the benefit of poor patients,” Mr. Kalam said.

He also alluded to the success of Android, the open mobile operating system that has revolutionised mobile communication.

Freedom in research

West Bengal Minister for Information Technology Debesh Das emphasised on the importance of freedom and independence in research. K. Gopinath of the Indian Institute of Science spoke about why free code is critical in science, citing examples of Free Software such as Muscle and Hammer used in genetic science that have made a huge difference by allowing for collaborative research.

The convention, which has over 500 professors, academics and researchers participating, hosts workshops and tutorials offering training in FOSS technologies in scientific and technological domains. It aims at creating awareness on GNU/Linux software tools used in research.

The article was quoted in The Hindu