Genetic use restriction technology

Another method used to protect IP is the development of genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs) such as the 'Terminator' gene. The technology has significant application in agriculture and provides self-executing IPRs (Peng and Goldsmith, 2005). GURTs allow the seed company to exclude the use of the seed beyond its contracted use. This technology would transform self-pollinating seeds like soybeans to being 'hybrid-like' requiring users to purchase new seed each year.

One direct advantage to the innovating company would be to disallow the common practice of replanting or 'brown bagging' seed in order to circumvent the innovator's IPRs. GURTs can also have more direct applications to improved environmental management by helping to reduce pesticide usage. In this way the GURT is a gene key that is turned 'on' in the event of the presence of pests, but left off if no presence is detected. This differs from current models, such as the Bt maize hybrids, that are always 'on' regardless of the presence of root worm or borer pests. Market power concerns though exist with respect to gene keys because if a pest outbreak were to occur, sellers of the 'key' might be able to take advantage of buyers. A related development is efforts to develop more sophisticated GURTs (Terminator II) that allow plants to grow and germinate only if the farmer uses chemicals from the company. This has made a natural process, germination, dependent on inorganic chemicals (Kesan, 2000).

Efforts to support certain biotechnologies that are hostile to traditional farming such as the terminator seeds technology are grave concerns to poor countries where more than 60% of the population earn their livelihood from agriculture. Consequently, the right to save, exchange and save seeds, and sell their harvest is a matter of high importance to developing countries that see continuation of traditional farming practices as vital to their national interests.

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