The Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA) was founded in 2004 by the Rockefeller Foundation in response to concerns that public investments in agricultural biotechnology benefiting developing countries were facing delays, high transaction costs and lack of access to important technologies due to intellectual property right (IPR) issues. From its inception, PIPRA has worked broadly to support a wide range of research in the public sector, in specialty and minor acreage crops as well as crops important to food security in developing countries. In this paper, we review PIPRA’s work, discussing the failures, successes, and lessons learned during its years of operation. To address public sector’s limited freedom-to-operate, or legal access to third-party rights, in the area of plant transformation, we describe PIPRA’s patent ‘pool’ approach to develop open-access technologies for plant transformation which consolidate patent and tangible property rights in marker-free vector systems. The plant transformation system has been licensed and deployed for both commercial and humanitarian applications in the United States (US) and Africa, respectively.