Sent: 30 April 2001 16:00
To: '[email protected]'
Subject: Universities and IPRs
Thanks to Juan Gallego-Beltran for this message - the first one in the conference since 12 April and the Easter holidays....Moderator]
My name is Juan F. Gallego-Beltran. I am a researcher in Animal Health at CORPOICA (Colombian corporation for research in agriculture and livestock), Colombia. Currently I am finishing my PhD studies at The Royal Veterinary College, University of London.
Although my experience in projects dealing with intellectual property and patents is almost non-existent, I would like to share with you a mixed bag of ideas.
I have seen, in my country, some cases of unfair and unbalanced negotiations between the north (developed countries) and the south (not developed countries). In all the cases the benefits have gone to the north and the feeling of dispossesion remained in the south. Some of these "research projects" have to do with the identification and characterization of genetic markers for disease resistance in native or criollo cattle breeds. In the cases I know, some of my colleagues have been, sometimes voluntarily sometimes not, acting just as sample collectors and couriers from the south to the North. These type of projects do not contribute to the creation of scientific development as the main, if not all, research is carried out abroad, and in most of the cases no input from "native" scientists is required or even desired.
One of the things that worries me, is the involvement of some universities (internationally well known centers of academic excellence) in this unfair trade of biological material in exchange for tokens to the "natives" - such as a few places (not even at discounted fees!!) in their postgraduate schools, or, more often, the offering of scientific exchange opportunities (scientific tourism) to the directors of institutions in the developing countries. Once the biological material is "captured", the appeal of the original owners to such research centers does not exist anymore.
This situation is worrying because the UNIVERSITY should keep its long tradition of pursuing KNOWLEDGE for the benefit of mankind, but it seems to be that nowadays knowledge is a commodity for the big universities, that is used to facilitate their trade with partners in the private sector (joint ventures!!) or to trade for themselves in their own supported biotech companies.
What future will we expect from "Doctors of Philosophy" that in their student days had as a tutor a respected and mature scientist for whom the main goal was to make as profitable as possible the results of his/her research and for whom the top achievement would have been the granting of a patent!!. Is that philosophy of science ??
Biotech companies are using universities as a middleman. This link between universities and biotech companies is an easy and simple way to bridge regulations and to obtain valuable biological material from non-developed countries without any trouble. I wonder if the universities are that naive to be unaware of the role they are playing ??.
Do you know of similar cases ??. It does not matter if you are a member of a top class university (Ivy League, Red Brick etc.), do not be embarrassed to acknowledge it (just think for yourself). To be aware is the first step to change things!!.
It must be said as well that, at the end of the day, it is also about the quality of the negotiation between south and north. In many cases the biodiversity of poor countries is dealt and negotiated by government officials (rarely scientists) that do not see beyond their personal benefit, and that do not understand, or try hard not to, that biodiversity is not a goverment's commodity but a people's property. Obviously, this situation is taken to the advantage of the other side of the business.
The points that Glenn Ashton shares [2 messages on 12 April...Moderator] in relation to the flawed concept of "legal claims to ownership of life forms" and also about the rotten IPR framework are simply brilliant!!. To add a humble thought to these: I wonder how long it will take for "non-biotech" companies to claim rights on a silly modification of the molecules of inorganic material, that will render inorganic material as properties of such companies ? How long will it take for some "clever" scientists to help more "clever" businessman to claim IPR on the water and the air by means of a "revolutionary" and patented method of decontamination. It will be a paradox to pay big companies for the decontamination of the air and the water that they have already polluted when profiting from us!!.
NOTE. Because of the protocol of this conference, the names of institutions are not disclosed.
J. F. Gallego-Beltran
(MV. MSc.) COLOMBIA
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