The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


Patent strategies and agricultural biotechnology


Peter W.B. Phillips, Jillian Gustafson, University of Saskatchewan, Canada





The creation of private intellectual property rights for agri-food innovations in the past 20 years in Canada and elsewhere has opened the system to substantial private involvement. One of the most pressing issues for many researchers is the "freedom to operate" in a world of overlapping and interwoven claims to intellectual property rights.

Patents provide one form of intellectual property protection, which provides an incentive for private investment in research. Patents, however, may not be an optimal mechanism for providing incentives for private research because they create legal hurdles to acquiring the rights to use proprietary technologies or materials which diminishes and in some cases eliminates the value that could be generated from diffusion of the innovation. Markets for intellectual property are just beginning to emerge; negotiating contracts is extremely protracted and expensive while some technologies are not accessible through the marketplace.

The evolution of private intellectual property rights in the agri-food sector in Canada and abroad has fundamentally altered the capacity to develop and commercialize new technology-based agri-food products or services. The development process is often highly complex, as developers require access to germplasm and up to 15-30 different proprietary technologies to develop a single product. Even in the absence of opportunistic behavior by firms, the logistics of assembling access and licenses to all these elements is a problem itself. More importantly, however, the strategies that companies use to protect their rights have in many cases created real barriers to entry for new firms and impediments for both public and private research and development.

This study is based on a survey of a community of 30 biotechnology research companies and agencies that operate in and from Saskatoon, Canada. This regional subset of the industry—which involves large international biotechnology companies, medium sized ventures, entrepreneurial startups and public labs—was chosen because the entities undertake research in generally competitive areas and use the same legal and human infrastructure, which makes it easier to identify strategies used by competing enterprises. The study will examine the patenting strategies of these companies and agencies to determine how they acquire their rights and how they exploit them.

The results of the survey will be used to identify the economic costs and benefits of patents, focusing on the impact of patents on the diffusion of new innovations. Alternative strategies and approaches will be identified and examined for their impact on diffusion.



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