We have two concerns. First, IPR on the vectors and genes used in the transformation processes may be under patent protection in the hands of private companies and academic institutions. This principle also applies to patents on technologies and tools used, such as plant transformation systems, selectable markers and gene expression technologies. When broad patents or patents on basic research are obtained by the private sector, the consequences for public research products are important. This is the case for biolistics (DuPont), Agrobacterium-mediated transformation (Japan Tobacco) and coat-protein-mediated resistance (Monsanto). If these technologies are used only for research purposes, there is a general agreement that no infringement occurs. However, this is not the case when research is translated into products in the market-place. This situation is affecting the development of transgenic plants in Costa Rica. In addition, the Patent Law of 1983 excludes the protection of biotechnology products and procedures. The law will be changed to meet Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) requirements.
In Costa Rica, as in other countries, the distribution channels and agricultural extension in the public sector to reach farmers' fields are in a process of change towards privatization. Broad IPR protection of enabling technologies in the hands of the private sector might have a serious impact, as seed distribution channels are undergoing privatization around the world (Spillane, 1999).
The second concern is related to biosafety regulations and the risk of using modified rice cultivars in tropical environments. No documented experience on this topic has yet been published, to the best of our knowledge. It is one of the most contentious arguments against the use of transgenic plants, since it is assumed that wild relatives might, under specific conditions, hybridize and give rise to a new hybrid, which may pose a threat to agriculture if it behaves as a weed. No scientific evidence has been presented to support this argument, though a large body of speculation is shaping the opinion about plant biotechnology among consumers and even regulatory offices. The mapping of native relatives of rice species in Costa Rica is providing important information for selecting field-trial locations and crop areas. Conducting this type of study, in connection with the production of different transgenic rice plants, offers an interesting model to prevent risks associated with agricultural biotechnology developments. It is important to note that in 1997 Costa Rica included biosafe-ty regulations in its Phytosanitary Protection Law No. 7664.
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