Sent: Thursday, March 22, 2001 11:06 AM
Subject: Prerequisites for acceptance of IPRs in developing countries
I am Ancha Srinivasan, working as a senior researcher at the Regional Science Institute, Sapporo, Japan.
In my opinion, the negative impacts of IPRs for food and agriculture in developing countries outweigh the positive ones at present, because of inadequate mechanisms for patenting and protecting genetic resources in those countries. I give below some issues that need to be resolved in future before IPRs are widely accepted in developing countries. While some of the issues listed below may be familiar, I just wish to restate and propose what I consider appropriate.
1. There should be a clear mechanism to distinguish between discoveries and inventions. There are many instances where genetic resources from developing countries were granted patents in developed countries, often without the knowledge and consent of the owners of such resources in developing countries. A recent case reported by RAFI (Rural Advancement Fund International) refers to the US Patent No. 6,040,503, concerning the popping bean trait of Andean nuna bean, awarded to a US food processor. People in the Peruvian Andes know this crop and its popping characteristic for a long time. To avoid this type of patents, strict rules on awarding IPRs must be devised. For example, a breeder must provide sufficient evidence by declaring the breeding method and the materials used. In some cases, transgenic viruses have been patented as biopesticides even without undergoing adequate tests.
2. Appropriate cost-benefit sharing mechanisms must be devised in developed countries, especially when researchers in those countries make use of materials from developing countries. International organizations can help in encouraging and assisting people in developing countries to patent indigenous technologies of developing countries. As pointed out in Conference 1 of this Forum, patenting an invention by a researcher in a developing country sometimes costs more than the cost of his/her research.
3. The incompatibility of farmers' rights and IPRs remains to be adequately addressed. Despite all the talk in international fora, no effective system of compensation or incentives for the providers of germplasm has been developed. The elimination of the concept of ownership or property right in genetic resources is a pre-requisite to achieve this. While developed countries tend to treat farmers merely as conservators of genetic resources, developing countries feel that their farmers are indeed innovators.
4. Most people in developed countries agree that free access to indigenous germplasm in developing countries is essential to foster innovation, but they are unable to accept the principle of on-farm seed saving or swapping grain for seed, which is a common practice in developing countries. It is therefore important to develop flexible IPRs (the degree of flexibility being dependent on the contribution of a particular country/region) that guarantee the right of farmers in developing countries to continue with their traditional ways of free production and exchange of germplasm. Indeed, the private sector, especially in the developed world, is aiming at stronger global IPRs to protect their own research outputs with weak or no protection over raw materials in developing countries. This is indeed a double standard policy and it must be discouraged.
5. Most biotechnology-derived products are dependent on third-party technologies and subject to their IPRs. If the technology owners seek maximum value for each of the component technologies, the cost of acquisition can become prohibitive. This factor alone can restrict the access to, and thereby widespread use of, those products in developing countries. In such cases, a balance has to be found between cost and benefit and between monopoly and access. Deals between private companies and international organizations (e.g., between Glaxo and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)) to supply products at a reasonable price must be encouraged.
I will try to respond to other questions of the conference at a later date. I look forward to learning more from this conference.
Ancha Srinivasan, Ph.D.
Senior Researcher, Regional Science Institute
4-13, Kita 24 Nishi 2, Kita-ku, Sapporo 001-0024 Japan Tel:+81-11-717-6660 Fax: +81-11-757-3610
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