The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


Establishing Effective Intellectual Property Rights and Reducing Barriers to Entry in Canadian Agricultural Biotechnology Research


Derek T. Stovin, Peter W.B. Phillips, University of Saskatchewan, Canada





Although biotechnology applications have been with us for centuries, plant breeding has, since 1973, been increasingly influenced and driven by new molecular biology techniques. The innovation, knowledge, and technology embedded in these new techniques depended heavily on advances in the basic sciences of physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics. These advances have been of such great importance that approximately 40% of the world’s market economy is now based upon biological products and processes. One of the fundamental drivers of this economic transformation is the introduction of new or strengthened individual rights over intellectual property.

New or strengthened intellectual property rights have most recently been internationally manifested in the UPOV convention and in the TRIPS agreement in the Uruguay Round of the GATT. Advances contained in the New Growth Theory literature (Romer, Lucas, Salai-Martin) place the production of new ideas central to long run economic growth. These relatively new international institutions, or others like them, have the potential to provide an increased incentive for the private production and adoption of new ideas thereby enhancing the effect noted by New Growth Theorists.

Other international developments, such as the outcome of the Biosafety Protocol meetings in Montreal, the increased effectiveness of environmental lobby groups demonstrated at the WTO meetings in Seattle, and the reluctance of countries with developing economies to enforce IPRs, indicate that society is struggling with the implementation of these new private incentives. Much of the difficulty in achieving public acceptance of stronger IPRs lies in the granting of apparently entrenched monopoly rights to private agents. A monopoly situation is normally viewed, by both economists and civil society at large, as sub-optimal and counter to the public interest. Thus, without effective institutions in place to protect the public from the private abuse of monopoly power, a monopoly situation is generally thought of as something to be avoided.

This paper develops a theoretical framework for analyzing the potential trade-off between the encouragement of ‘useful’ research and the protection of the public interest from abuses of monopoly power. The theoretical results are then applied to the case of Canadian Agricultural Plant Biotechnology Research. Finally, the Canadian institutions that are in place to protect the public interest are discussed and other policy options are explored.



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