1st Edition

The Privatisation of Knowledge A New Policy Agenda for Health, Energy, and Data Governance

By Massimo Florio Copyright 2024

    This book deals with the emergence of intellectual monopolies. It explores different ways of producing knowledge, thus showing alternatives to the current dominant paradigm which is based on turning knowledge produced collectively into intangible assets, owned by a few leading corporations. It discusses a paradox: knowledge creation by government-sponsored research infrastructures (RI) or by non-profit institutions, including universities, is increasingly appearing in the form of "open science" - ideas and data are widely available in the public domain. However, such knowledge is privatised downstream by new oligopolies. These oligopolies, such as the Tech Giants, are protected by legislation on intellectual property rights that restricts further access to knowledge. This process contributes to increasing social inequality.

    The book suggests alternative policy options to counteract this process: the design of new players with a public mission and a coalition of governments as patient investors for the long-term benefit not just of the citizens of one jurisdiction but for creating global public goods. Proposals are presented for launching European R&D infrastructures related to three major long-term challenges: health risks, climate change and Big Data governance. These knowledge-intensive enterprises should offer innovation as a public good, for example in new biomedical fields underinvested by private firms, disruptive ‘green’ technologies, digital platforms based on transparent users’ ownership of data.

    Offering a balanced combination of theories and practical applications including interesting case studies, the book will appeal to students, scholars and researchers of public economics and governance. It will also find an audience among policymakers, practitioners and government officials.

    List of Tables



    Introduction: science and social justice

    Knowledge as an intangible asset

    Where is knowledge produced?

    Innovation and financialisation

    The role of government

    Science and gambling

    Policy failures

    A new policy agenda


    1. The places of knowledge: from Big Science to research infrastructure

    Big Science and the military・industrial complex

    The “Geneva model” and its evolution

    How university research is changing

    How R&D is changing within firms

    The social impact of research infrastructure

    Science for scientists and the creation of human capital

    Direct impact on businesses

    Cultural impact and social attitudes towards science

    Summing up


    2. Science, inequality, and public policy

    The channels of privatisation of knowledge

    The new oligopoly and inequality

    Corrective policies

    Rethinking public enterprise

    Internalisation of missions

    Ownership and legal form




    3. Biomed Europa: medicines that no one else will give us




    Lessons from the pandemic

    A proposal

    Social benefits and costs

    Appendix: some proposals from the European Commission


    4. Green Europa: science and technology for saving the planet

    What’s wrong with the planet? And why we don’t know enough about the cure

    The European Commission’s strategy and its limitations

    The role of cutting-edge research and innovation

    The role of the European Union and a proposal

    Appendix: The European Space Agency model


    5. Digital Europa: how to get our data back


    A short history of bits

    The digital oligopoly

    Missed opportunities

    European Commission initiatives and a new proposal

    Appendix: Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act

    Appendix: the Fraunhofer model


    Conclusion: what can be done?





    Massimo Florio is Professor of Public Economics at the University of Milan, Italy and co-Chair of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence on European research and innovation policy.