An Ip Clearinghouse And Technology Transfer To Developing Countries

Equally important questions to ask are the following: "Who is not in the game?"; "Who is in danger of being locked out of the dynamic advance of agricultural technologies?"; or "Who is not investing in research because of uncertainties surrounding the validity and enforcement of IP?" These include:

• Farmers and growers.

• Agricultural co-ops and grower's associations.

• Many of the land-grant and public universities in the United States and abroad.

• International agricultural research centers of the CGIAR.

• National agricultural research services (NARS) of developing countries.

• Medium- and small-scale seed enterprises and nurseries in developed countries and national seed companies of developing countries.

• Agricultural development NGOs.

One of the most important things to consider in exploring options for an IP clearinghouse is that the newly available IP informatics and market-based tools might not merely allow for but could actually encourage the participation of those currently left out of the R&D process. Not only would today's outsiders find themselves able to in-license currently unavailable technologies at reasonable costs and on reasonable terms, but they would be encouraged to develop and out-license their own inventions for fair returns on reasonable terms. Incentives would be aligned to encourage the development of agricultural research capacity. Similarly, other potential technology providers (farmers, coops, university professors, independent inventors, small firms) who currently have the capacity but lack the incentives to undertake certain lines of research for themselves, would come to see the advantage of completing and patenting undeveloped ideas that they could offer to others in an active and healthy technology marketplace.

A number of voices have advocated collective IP solutions for public-sector and international agricultural research, seeking to improve conditions of freedom to operate for academic and not-for-profit international agricultural research institutions through some sort of licensing mediation or IP pooling mechanism (Bennett, 2000; Prakash, 2000). Similar calls have been heard in the related fields of medical biotechnology and genomics (Shulman, 2000, Clark et al., 2000.)

A first credible step toward creating an IP clearinghouse might be to erect a mechanism for the bundling and provision of inexpensive "humanitarian use licenses" for the release of new developments from agricultural research dedicated to solving problems of food security, malnutrition, and poverty. GoldenRice, the rice line engineered to deliver pro-vitamin A, is the first in what could be a long list of potentially useful technologies developed by public sector researchers, but which need permission from multiple private and public sector patent holders in order to be released and sold in most of the countries where it is needed (Kryder, Kowalski, and Krattiger, 2000). A separate set of multi-party IP agreements could be hammered out each time a new variety comes along, an arrangement that may slowly choke off public sector involvement in such work, or an established clearinghouse could build expertise in negotiating such IP agreements and build upon previous agreements.

The utility of a clearinghouse beyond its role in the coordination of IP philanthropy would quickly become clear. The academic and corporate donors of the humanitarian use contracts might soon approach the clearinghouse with requests to help negotiate complex arrangements for their own needs, for example, to provide freedom to operate for a previously neglected crop that only university-based plant breeders were working on, or for an environmentally beneficial trait whose low expected profit level previously could not justify the costly bilateral licensing negotiations necessary to launch it as a commercial product.

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