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“ The chief purpose of patent laws has always been to encourage the dissemination of information so that new technological knowledge could be introduced into the public domain more quickly.” -- Gregory Conko, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C.
In the context of today’s symposium, IPRs are being discussed as they are related specifically to biotechnology and GMOs as tools to:
Achieve sustainable improvement of crop and livestock productivity.
Enhance human and animal health.
Develop renewable resources.
The poor deserve the best science has to offer and much of it will be tied to biotechnology—and the IPR strings attached to it!
Because IRRI’s primary clients are developing country NARES, which in turn serve poor farmers within their respective borders, it is useful to show how IRRI has adjusted its IPR policies on germplasm over the years .
Historically, IRRI’s IPR policy for germplasm was simple and driven by our mission to “improve the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, particularly those with low incomes.”
IRRI produces and disseminates—without restraints—rice germplasm and knowledge as global public goods .
The progressive introduction of national and/or regional legislation on plant variety protection has provided for the legal designation of IP ownership and IPR protection for new and/or traditional varieties in the country or region concerned.
International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources (IUPGR; 1983 and revised in 1989, 1991, 1993):
Began with early guidelines for the fair collection of germplasm and later introduced the concept of “In Trust” germplasm collections with obligatory defensive material transfer agreements (MTAs), in an attempt to retain the status of plant genetic resources in CGIAR genebanks as global public goods.
These include nuclear powers with extensive commercial agricultural production systems and sophisticated agricultural research capacity (e.g., India and Brazil) to rural countries that have rather limited research capacities or are on the brink of starvation (e.g., Myanmar and North Korea).
A “one-size-fits-all” approach to IPRs is neither feasible nor desirable. Countries have different needs and capacities and what is best for one is unlikely to be best overall, and thus unlikely to be best for society. -- U.K. Royal Society 2003; Cary Fowler, Centre for International Environment and Development Studies, University of Norway.
National public (NARES) , e.g., EMBRAPA, PhilRice, CNRRI, URRC .
National private , e.g., Mahyco & EID Parry Ltd. (India), Kenya Seed Co., many hybrid seed companies in
International public , e.g., University of Minnesota, IRRI .
International private , e.g., Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer
AG, Pioneer/Dupont, Ceres .
During IRRI’s recent quinquennial external program review, the panel enthusiastically endorsed the Institute’s continued role as a producer of global public goods .
Will technology suppliers—be they private sector companies or, increasingly, public sector universities—share their proprietary products royalty-free for humanitarian purposes and/or their monetary rewards with appropriate stakeholders? Examples: Golden Rice & Xa21 disease resistance gene.
To date, Golden Rice is probably the best example of the value of private sector donations of IP licenses combined with extensive public sector and charitable research.
Five major companies licensed free-of-charge technology used in Golden Rice development. In exchange for facilitating the availability of GoldenRice™ to small farmers in developing countries, Syngenta would have rights to the rice for developed country exploitation.
The licenses allowed the co-inventors to deliver the first seed samples of Golden Rice to IRRI in early 2001.
The discovery of the protective Xa21 locus—which provides excellent resistance to rice bacterial blight—and the eventual patenting of the gene is a saga of the last quarter century that literally spans the globe—from Mali to India to the Philippines and on to New York and California.
We applaud the idea of UC Davis to set up a voluntary benefit-sharing arrangement called the Genetic Resources Recognition Fund (GRRF). It targets, among the first beneficiaries, local people in Mali and other developing countries where the wild rice, O. longistaminata , is found.
Access to new labor-saving, productivity-increasing technologies will play a crucial role in helping the developing world’s poor farmers and consumers break out of poverty and obtain food security.
IPR concepts, particularly for crop germplasm, have changed dramatically during the past decade, but IRRI, for one, has worked hard to adjust its IPR policies on germplasm to new developments tied to the CBD, IUPGR, and ITPGRFA. We will continue to work with our NARES partners to deal with continually evolving IPR issues.
Many international private companies and public sector universities are making discoveries that can be channeled by IRRI and others for the benefit of the poor with perhaps spectacular gains in the coming decade. Really, the fun has just begun!