In the preliminary results of a survey by Lei et al. (2005) that focused on researchers in plant biology and related fields at four public land grant institutions (University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Davis; University of California, Riverside; and University of Arizona), most of the 85 respondents reported acting as if they had a bona fide research exemption. For them, concern with freedom to operate is focused on lack of easy and quick access to materials held by others. Over the last 5 years, more than one-third of respondents reported delays in obtaining access to research tools, with a mean of two delays, and mean duration of more than 8 months. More than one-quarter of the respondents reported one or more cases in which difficulties in obtaining research tools affected their research projects in ways other than causing delays. In one-third of these cases, alternative tools of equivalent effectiveness were used, but in about 40% of cases researchers resorted to less effective tools.

More seriously, in about one-quarter of the problematic cases a project or line of research that was part of a project had to be abandoned, or not initiated, due to lack of access to research tools.12 There does not appear to be strong evidence distinguishing academia from industry as the major source of these problems.

The majority of all respondents, and of the subset who have made invention disclosures, believe that public and private IPRs on research tools is, overall, having a negative effect on research in their area.

The attitudes of the agricultural biotechnologists surveyed are largely consistent with those of scientists actively engaged in health-related biotechnology.13 However, there is some evidence that the effects on research of lack of access to needed technology have been more serious on average for biotechnologists working on agriculture than for those focused on human health. This might reflect the smaller set of promising technologies in agriculture and the lower level of resources available to help scientists surmount or invent around roadblocks.

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