The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


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Role of Biotechnology Policies and Regulations in Technology Transfer to Developing Countries
Josette Lewis, U.S. Agency for International Development
Andrea Johanson, Michigan State University

Biotechnology presents a challenge to international agricultural development as a result of its rapid rise from a new science to its integration in seed development, and its increasing application in commercial crop production. This rapid transition has created a scientific and technological gap between the industrialized and developing countries that must be bridged by additional capacity building and technology transfer. The greater challenge for both developing countries and donor organizations, however, is in addressing the regulatory and policy issues of intellectual property rights and biosafety that go hand-in-hand with the science.

Intellectual property rights (IPR) protection has played a key role in the rapid commercialization of biotechnolo- gy in the U.S. In part because of the market opportunities supported by strong IPR regimes, private sector investment in biotechnology research has steadily increased to the point where in the U.S. it now exceeds that of the public sector. As a consequence of the large private sector role in research, scientists at public institutions must learn to collaborate with industry as a means of accessing important research tools. The use of IPR is not limited to industrial research -- legislation in the U.S. has also encouraged universities receiving federal research grants to pursue IPR protection on new inventions as a means of promoting technology transfer and commercial development. Thus, in both the public and private sectors, IPR has become a part of research in agricultural biotechnology.

Several international agreements that deal with issues of biotechnology further highlight the role of regulations. These include the TRIPS agreement of GATT that requires some form of IPR protection in agriculture -- as a requirement of joining the WTO, developing countries are required to meet the standards of IPR protection outlined in this agreement.

Additionally, the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources approaches the question of IPR from different perspectives, including issues of farmers' rights. Finally, the Biosafety Protocol currently under negotiation will impose new international regulations and procedures thatwill impact collaborative research and technology transfer.

Drawing from the experience of the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project, examples will illustrate: i) how IPR and biosafety have been addressed to promote capacity building and technology transfer to developing countries from U.S.universities and the private sector; ii) how issues of IPR and biosafety have promoted or hindered technology transfer.