Transgenic crops, biotechnology and ownership rights: what scientists need to know


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Ownership of intellectual and tangible property (IP/TP) rights in agricultural biotechnology (ag-biotech) and transgenic plants has become critically important. For scientists in all institutions, whether industrialized or developing country, public or private sector, an understanding of IP/TP rights is fundamental in both research and development. Transgenic plants and ag-biotech products embody numerous components and processes, each of which may have IP/TP rights attached. To identify these rights, a transgenic plant or ag-biotech product must be dissected into its essential components and processes, with each ‘piece’ analysed under the IP/TP ‘microscope’. This product deconstruction is an integral step in product clearance (PC) analysis leading to freedom to operate (FTO). To facilitate a PC analysis, the following points are important: (1) knowing what one has and where it's from, (2) organizing material transfer agreements and licences, (3) researching scientific and patent databases and relevant literature, (4) instituting a laboratory notebook policy, (5) keeping track of ownership of germplasm and plant genetic resources, and (6) promoting ongoing IP/TP management, awareness and training. However, a FTO opinion does not solve the IP/TP issues of releasing a transgenic plant or ag-biotech product; rather, it is a management tool for assessing the risks of litigation. When transferring transgenic plants or ag-biotech to developing nations, scientists from industrialized countries have the heightened responsibility of verifying that IP/TP issues are fully addressed and documented. Successful technology transfer goes beyond research, development and licensing; it is an holistic package leading to long-term partnerships in international development. Managing IP/TP requires capacity-building in scientists and technology transfer offices, in both industrialized and developing countries.