Background: Bio-ontologies typically require multiple axes of classification to support the needs of their users. Development of such ontologies can only be made scalable and sustainable by the use of inference to automate classification via consistent patterns of axiomatization. Many bio-ontologies originating in OBO or OWL follow this approach. These patterns need to be documented in a form that requires minimal expertise to understand and edit and that can be validated and applied using any of the various programmatic approaches to working with OWL ontologies.
Results: Here we describe a system, Dead Simple OWL Design Patterns (DOS-DPs), which fulfills these requirements, illustrating the system with examples from the Gene Ontology.
Conclusions: The rapid adoption of DOS-DPs by multiple ontology development projects illustrates both the ease-of use and the pressing need for the simple design pattern system we have developed.