Biotechnology IPRs

Genetic engineering has allowed companies, universities and individuals in the US to patent genes, plant parts and plants. This has been the basis of the growth of the biotechnology industry in the US. This has greatly increased the amount of private sector research on plant biology. For the first time, large chemical firms and start-up companies are looking at rice improvement. While corn, soybeans and cotton have attracted more research dollars, rice has also been affected. For the first time firms like Monsanto, DuPont and Ciba-Geigy are trying to develop disease- and pest-resistant rice varieties.

Biotechnology is also strengthening IPRs by making it easier to produce F1 hybrid seed. P.G.S. Belgium has developed and patented a system to produce genetically engineered nuclear male sterility (NMS) in rice, and it is working with Japan Tobacco to develop NMS hybrids for Japan and Proagro to produce hybrids for rice in India.

The tools of biotechnology have also made it easier to identify varieties or hybrids that are being illegally sold or used as an inbred line in hybrids. This greatly strengthens the ability of private firms to enforce their IPRs where they exist.

Biotechnology has strengthened IPRs on rice in some countries, and this has led to increased private sector research on rice biology and rice breeding. However, we were not able to find any evidence that increased private rice research had led to an increased use of biodiversity. IRRI reports negligible use of IRG by private companies (M. Jackson, personal communication, 1996). The only evidence of increased interest in biodiversity due to these changes was the search for Bt strains which was carried out by Ciba-Geigy in the Philippines in the early 1990s.

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