Cambia (non-profit organization)

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Cambia logo.png
FounderRichard Anthony Jefferson
TypeNon-Governmental Organisation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and WIPO. Not-for-profit organisation with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.[1]
FocusOpen innovation, life sciences, intellectual property

Cambia is an Australian-based global non-profit social enterprise focusing on open science, biology, innovation system reform and intellectual property. Its projects include the Patent Lens, its successor The Lens, and the Biological Innovation for Open Society Initiative.

Cambia derives its name from the Spanish verb cambiar, to change.[2]


Cambia was established in 1992 by Richard Anthony Jefferson, a leading molecular biologist responsible for the invention of the GUS reporter system, with substantial early participation by Steven G Hughes, Kate J. Wilson, Andrzej Kilian, Chris A. Fields and Sujata Lakhani. Jefferson describes his vision to found a non-profit organisation in Innovations,[3] to provide more efficient and effective tools to solve the problems of agriculture and society.

In 1992, Cambia relocated to Canberra, Australia from The Netherlands, to oversee and troubleshoot the Rockefeller Foundation's rice biotechnology network in Asia. During this time, Jefferson, Wilson and the growing Cambia team visited hundreds of laboratories to help develop, improve, and apply biotechnology capabilities, particularly pertaining to rice. Cambia offered scientific courses and workshops, and increasing assistance in Intellectual Property management. Cambia's ethic was influenced by Jefferson's early years in enabling technology invention and distribution, but greatly refined through increasing awareness of socially and scientifically complex systems and using new thinking about biological evolution (including the Hologenome Theory of Evolution) as models for institution building and collaboration.

Cambia became one of the first social enterprises to use a hybrid licensing model to fund its public good activities. By selectively patenting important technologies, then creating tiered licensing models for their use, Cambia was able to ensure all parties fair access, but larger licensees would be required to pay more for their non-exclusive use, thus subsidising new developments and distribution and support to less wealthy users, including small enterprises and the public sector in the developing world. This model - developed also by the social entrepreneur David Green for universal access to eye care - is now becoming a pillar of social enterprise function.

Over time Cambia's focus moved away from biotechnology and towards innovation systems and Intellectual Property. The Patent Lens and its successor The Lens are now the primary focus of Cambia. Cambia's goal has always been to enable and democratise innovation and their move towards free and open tools that help people understand intellectual property landscapes is a continuation of those values. In this way they have changed from a wet-science research institute into a strategic system-changing social enterprise.


Cambia's work to freely distribute scientific tools and techniques gave rise to the Biological Open Source (BiOS) Initiative in 2005. Through an open-source biotechnology license and Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) developed in 2005-2007, BiOS sought to establish freedom to operate for innovators by providing and exemplifying legal instruments by which innovators could collaboratively use intellectual property protection as a means to share and jointly improve technology for wider utility. BiOS was built on the back of Jefferson's invention of the GUS-based reporter system and the creation of TransBacter,[4] a work-around for the creation of transgenic plants bypassing the highly patented Agrobacterium genus.[5]

Another of Cambia's projects was the development in 2001 [6] by then Chief Scientist Andrzej Kilian of Diversity Arrays Technology, a solid state sequence agnostic genotyping technology that was spun off into a company, DArT, Pty Ltd to perform agricultural genotyping services to the plant breeding community.

A principal current project of Cambia is the free full-text online patent search and exploration facility and knowledge resource, The Lens (previously the Patent Lens). Launched in 2000 with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation as a US agricultural patent search facility, and substantially expanded in 2005-2007 to encompass patent documents from multiple jurisdictions and all domains, and information on the linkages between patent applications and the status of granted patents, the Patent Lens allowed free searching of almost 10 million full-text patent documents. It was distinguished as being the only not-for-profit facility of its kind, with international coverage and integrated links to non-patent literature. The Lens was launched in 2013 as the successor to the Patent Lens, making strides in the visual presentation of patent analysis and workspace management; it is the only global patent site with fully open, shareable, annotatable and re-usable data collections.

It also features an open biological patent facility, PatSeq, led by Professor Osmat Jefferson,[7] with many advanced tools for searching and analysing biological sequences found in patents, to render gene patenting more transparent. The facility has mapped sequences disclosed in gene patents onto the genomes of humans, mice, maize, rice, soybean and others.


Cambia is social enterprise, and is a registered Non-Governmental Organisation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and a registered observer with the World Intellectual Property Organization. Within Australia, Cambia is registered with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee.

Cambia’s governance is overseen by a Board of Directors,[8] according to its constitution.[9]


As of July 2012, Cambia now operates principally from headquarters in Canberra, ACT at the NICTA (National ICT Australia) facility, with some staff based in Brisbane, Australia, at the Queensland University of Technology. Before its move to Brisbane in 2008, where it operated for four years, Cambia was located on the Black Mountain research campus of the CSIRO. Its glasshouse facilities were housed at the Australian National University campus.


  1. ^ "Cambia's Structure". Retrieved 2010-01-08.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Jefferson, Richard (Fall 2006). "Science as Social Enterprise: The CAMBIA BiOS Initiative" (PDF). Innovations. 1 (4): 13–44. doi:10.1162/itgg.2006.1.4.13. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  4. ^ "TransBacter Project". Retrieved 2010-01-10.
  5. ^ Broothaerts, Wim; Heidi J. Mitchell; Brian Weir; Sarah Kaines; Leon M.A. Smith; Wei Jang; Jorge E. Mayer; Carolina Roa-Rodriguez; Richard A. Jefferson (2005-02-10). "Gene transfer to plants by diverse species of bacteria". Nature. 433 (7026): 629–633. doi:10.1038/nature03309. PMID 15703747. Retrieved 2010-01-07.
  6. ^ Jaccoud D, Peng K, Feinstein D, Kilian A (February 2001). "Diversity arrays: a solid state technology for sequence information independent genotyping". Nucleic Acids Res. 29 (4): E25. doi:10.1093/nar/29.4.e25. PMC 29632. PMID 11160945
  7. ^ Osmat A Jefferson, Deniz Köllhofer, Thomas H Ehrich & Richard A Jefferson, Transparency tools in gene patenting for informing policy and practice. Nature Biotechnology 31, 1086–1093 (2013) doi:10.1038/nbt.2755
  8. ^ "Cambia Board of Directors". Retrieved 2010-01-10.
  9. ^ "Constitution of Cambia - A Company Limited by Guarantee". Retrieved 2010-01-10.

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