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Workshop on Intellectual Property Clearinghouse Mechanisms for Agriculture.

In February 2001, Farm Foundation co-sponsored an all-day workshop on intellectual property clearinghouse mechanisms in agriculture with the U.C. Berkeley Center for Sustainable Resource Development and the Office of Technology Transfer of the U.C. Office of the President.

A workshop summary document is available  here. Two articles resulting from the conference were published in the electronic journal  IP Strategy Today, No. 3-2001, pp. 1-30.

Two other magazine articles about the conference are reprinted below:


Workshop on Intellectual Property Clearinghouse Mechanisms for Agriculture

 

On February 16, 2001, U.C. Berkeley's Center for Sustainable Resource Development (CSRD) and the Office of Technology Transfer of the U.C. Office of the President hosted an all-day workshop, Intellectual Property Clearinghouse Mechanisms for Agriculture, at the Bancroft Hotel in Berkeley.

David Zilberman, co-director of CSRD and professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, explained that the conference was organized because the current situation in the biotechnology industry is ripe for discussion of mechanisms to reduce transaction costs and remove excessive barriers to using propriety technologies. The general goal of the workshop was to discover and to share in public forum the possibilities for cooperation, exchange of knowledge, and transfer of agricultural technologies with potential to benefit all humankind.

Over 90 participants from a variety of universities, companies, and U.S. government agencies attended, representing the United States, Europe, Australia, and Costa Rica. The meeting was supported by grants from the Giannini Foundation, Farm Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the U.C. Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The workshop revealed that there is wide consensus and potential for cooperation in several directions, namely:
  • Improve information exchange about existing technologies and intellectual property claims over those technologies by providing a patent "dating service."
  • Reduce IPR-induced transaction costs by standardizing processes to obtain licenses or other forms of access to agricultural technologies.
  • Give urgent attention to sharing intellectual property rights and improved access to biotechnologies targeted toward alleviating hunger and malnutrition in developing countries, and reducing environmental problems associated with pesticide use and groundwater contamination.
  • Develop mechanisms to facilitate development and commercialization of new technologies for the improvement and production of specialty crops.
  • Implement criteria for ownership of intellectual property rights based on their impact on the overall performance of agricultural and food systems, rather than on narrower impacts on individual parties or interest groups in the system-farmers, inventors, or companies.

CSRD will be working with a small group of conference participants and funders in the next steps for creating an effective intellectual property clearinghouse mechanism for agricultural biotechnology innovations and product development.

Article by Robin Cook in Breakthroughs--A Magazine for Alumni and Friends of the College of Natural Resources, University of California, Berkeley, Spring 2001, Volume 7, Number 1, p. 5.

###

Center proposes solution for ag biotech licensing disputes


With concerns growing over the "Balkanization" of agricultural biotechnology, a summit at UC Berkeley was convened Feb. 16 to explore new mechanisms for facilitating freer exchanges of intellectual property.

The workshop sought to address a troubling dilemma: Potentially useful discoveries in agricultural biotechnology are being made in university and commercial laboratories around the world, but many never make it to market because of the legal quagmire that results when the inventors try to secure all the necessary intellectual property rights.

"Any commercialization of research and development at a university that uses technologies owned by others will have to deal with a lot of legal hassle and uncertainty," says Gregory Graff, a UC Berkeley Ph.D. candidate in Agriculture and Resource Economics.

More than 100 people from industry, academia, government and other organizations attended the daylong workshop and roundtable discussion, which was organized by UC Berkeley's Center for Sustainable Resource Development (CSRD) and the UC Office of Technology Transfer. The workshop was funded by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Giannini Foundation and Farm Foundation.

"As agricultural research in genetics, breeding, agronomy, pest control, agro-ecology and related systems becomes more and more intertwined and complex, new agricultural research inevitably depends more and more on access to knowledge and biological proprietary," Graff and CSRD director David Zilberman wrote in a paper prepared for the workshop.

UC currently holds 125 agricultural biotechnology patents, the most of any U.S. university. However, while UC has been on the cutting edge of innovation in agricultural biotechnology patents, these techniques are not widely applied on the state's farms, Graff says. "Growers are not getting the best genetics, because the technologies are tied up in court, on the laboratory shelf or in the research greenhouse. We want to cut through the legal thicket over intellectual property and get the right genetic improvements out into the right fields."

Furthermore, UC has suffered from many of the licensing problems catalogued by workshop participants, including inexperience among researchers, high transaction costs, litigation, liability concerns and prior secrecy agreements.

The current U.S. patent system is in "terrible shape in terms of giving people certainty over who owns what," says Brian Wright, UC Berkeley professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Intellectual property rights issues, Graff says, are having a significant impact on: scientists in developing countries; research on "minor crops," which account for more than 95 percent of California crops; land-grant universities; and commercial biotechnology companies.

Graf and Zilberman have joined others in proposing a global intellectual-property-rights clearinghouse which would provide a centralized, Internet-based mechanism for exchanging patent information and licensing rights related to agricultural biotechnology. For example, the clearinghouse could gather interdependent patents from their various owners, and provide the whole bundle to researchers or potential developers of commercial products, on special terms.

At the workshop's roundtable discussion, "everyone liked the word clearinghouse," Graff reports. "All the participants agreed that something needs to be done. However, the devil is in the details."

For more information, go to : http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/csrd/technology/ipcmech/

Article by Jane Bryon in California Agriculture, Volume 55, Number 2, March-April 2001, p. 6.

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