Have the heirs to Steinbeck's works actually read Steinbeck? The man was a communist, for crying out loud. The idea of capitalizing on his work, who's main aim was the common good, would make him sick, I'm sure.
Let's not forget the goal of science is not science itself. The value of science lies not in what it is, per se, but what value it provides to us. So, while science may itself not be the public good, the product of science -- its technology, its shared insights, its advancement -- is a public good, for it provides happiness and value to others.
More than anything else, this talk should call into question the necessity of proprietary information. If the goal of science is, in essence, the advancement of the good and the general betterment, why are secrets necessary? We must recognize that the "cost" of research and knowledge represent a direct investment in the act of science, and that the long term goal must be to minimize the overall cost of that investment, to further the greater good. So, if it is for the general betterment that companies and intellectually invested scientists share information for their mutual benefit, all the better, but let us not use that as a gloss over private versus public accessibility, as if to excuse the poor behavior of those who seek to monopolize value -- seek to monopolize the means of social betterment.