You see, a company called Advanced Biological Laboratories, S.A has been suing Shafer and Stanford over a patent dispute. The company seems to be trying to claim to have rights over many (or maybe they think all) uses of using computers to help doctors make medical decisions. And they have been trying to get people to license their IP/software for doing this and one way they appear to be trying to get "users" is by suing them. And Bob is one of the people they have sued.
Sadly, Stanford University appears to have given in to the lawsuits even though their validity is debatable (see The Fight of His Life which provides some of the details - Hat Tip to Bill Hooker and FriendFeed for highlighting this article) and Bob has been left hanging on his own. Instead of caving to the lawsuit and shutting down HIVDB or making it less openly available or requiring people to say they will give commercial rights to Advanced Biological Laboratories for anything they develop using the DB. And rather than cave to the lawsuits Bob is fighting back - with a website called harmfulpatents.org and with a set of letters and communications. Mind you, I know little about IP/patent laws or the legal issues behind this dispute. But if this lawsuit leads to the shutting down or restriction of HIVDB that would be proof enough to me that Advanced Biological Laboratories and the legal system that supports them is doing a disservice to the progress of science.
For his efforts in keeping HIVDB open I am giving Bob Shafer a Open Access Pioneer Award.