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4-Patents: U.S. initiative to overcome patent barrier to feed thehungry with GMOs (2)

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                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Researchers to Keep Some Biotech Rights
        Plant Patents Could Be Used to Aid Poor
SOURCE: The Washington Post, by Justin Gillis
DATE:   Jul 11, 2003

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Researchers to Keep Some Biotech Rights
Plant Patents Could Be Used to Aid Poor

The nation's leading centers of plant research launched a plan yesterday
to share the benefits of agricultural biotechnology more widely,
particularly with farmers growing subsistence crops in poor countries and
with specialty farmers growing fruits, nuts and vegetables for the
American table.

Under the plan, announced in the journal Science, top universities and
other research centers said they would manage their biotechnology patents
more carefully than in the past. When they license patents on new
techniques to corporations, they said, they will reserve rights to use
those techniques for humanitarian projects in poor countries, and to
apply them to specialized crops that are grown in the industrial world
but are too small to interest large agricultural companies.

Parties to the agreement said it was an attempt to restore some balance,
and a keener sense of the public welfare, to an agricultural-research
system increasingly dominated by large corporations.

At the same time, they emphasized that the plan is not an attempt to
undermine the patenting of genetic techniques or stop the
commercialization of crops developed using those patents. "We are not
interested in diminishing the commercial opportunities of this
technology," said Alan B. Bennett, a plant biologist who is also
executive director of research administration and technology transfer in
the University of California system, which is participating in the new plan.

Rather, the organizers said, they want to be sure an increasingly
complicated thicket of patent issues in the world of plant research
doesn't slow or halt public interest projects that the big companies have
little or no interest in supporting.

Like biologists in other disciplines, plant researchers have been
wrestling for several years with a welter of complex patent difficulties.
The definitive case study for those who see problems in the current
system is a biotechnology invention called golden rice.

Ingo Potrykus, a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology,
and his collaborators moved genes from the daffodil plant into rice,
creating a type of rice that can make a precursor chemical to vitamin A.
The crop holds potential for alleviating life-threatening vitamin A
deficiency among poor children in many parts of the world.

But to create the plant, Potrykus had to use numerous patented or
proprietary technologies, many of them created at universities but
licensed to more than a score of companies. Those companies had no
particular interest in blocking golden rice, but a keen interest in
protecting their patents. Potrykus had nearly despaired of solving the
patent mess when the agricultural biotechnology companies, in an
unrelated flap, came under fire in Europe for pushing genetically
modified crops like corn and soybeans.

Suddenly eager for an exhibit to showcase the potential of genetic
engineering to help the poor, companies tripped over one another to
donate their patent rights and help Potrykus win the many permissions he
needed. Golden rice is now under further development and could, in the
long run, be planted widely in rice-consuming countries.

As that brouhaha was unfolding several years ago, many people noted the
problem might never have occurred if the universities that developed the
technologies in the first place had, in granting licenses to
corporations, retained the right to use their technologies for
humanitarian purposes. More recently, small companies and plant breeders
have been complaining of a similar problem in their attempts to work on
specialty crops, like strawberries or walnuts.

Such crops generally don't interest big agricultural companies like
Monsanto Co. or Syngenta AG, which spend their energy on crops grown on
millions of acres, such as soybeans and corn. But the corporations
control patent rights to technologies that could be used to improve
smaller crops important to farmers in particular regions of the country.
Once again, many universities have licensed away those rights in their
entirety, without seeking to protect the interests of the specialty farmers.

While the difficulties have prompted some critics to mount broad attacks
on the patent system, one leading sponsor of public-interest agricultural
research, the Rockefeller Foundation of New York, has focused recently on
finding pragmatic solutions. A few months ago, it announced a plan under
which ag biotech companies agreed to donate their technologies for use in
Africa. The new plan creates a somewhat similar scheme for universities.

"A lot of what this is all about really boils down to just smarter
licensing on the part of the universities," said Gary Toenniessen,
director of food security programs at the Rockefeller Foundation.
"They're reluctant to say that, because nobody wants to say, 'We haven't
been doing it smart up until now.' "

With prodding from Rockefeller and another foundation concerned about the
issue, the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis, several major research
centers devised the plan in recent months. In yesterday's Science
announcement, they said they would create a consortium called the Public-
Sector Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture. It will track the
details of agricultural patent licensing and create a set of "best
practices" for universities to follow in their deals with commercial

Eventually, participants said, the consortium may be able to pool the
rights of numerous universities and offer them as a package to small
companies that want to work on particular specialty crops. And the group
also hopes to offer licensing packages to researchers working to improve
staple crops, such as cassavas or bananas, grown by small farmers in poor

Signatories to the plan include the presidents or chancellors of Cornell
University, Michigan State University, North Carolina State University,
Ohio State University, the University of California system, the
University of California at Riverside, the University of California at
Davis, Rutgers University, the University of Florida, the University of
Wisconsin, the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, and the
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. These are the major plant research
centers in the United States, but many other universities and
laboratories conduct such work, and they will be invited to join the new

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  UCD joins biotech drive on hunger
SOURCE: The Sacramento Bee, USA, by Mike Lee
DATE:   Jul 11, 2003

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UCD joins biotech drive on hunger

The University of California and several other leading agriculture
institutions have teamed up with the Rockefeller and McKnight foundations
to fight world hunger using biotech crops.

A major new initiative announced Thursday in Science magazine aims to
ease the transfer of technology for developing genetically engineered
crops that are critical to poor countries -- without undermining
commercial relationships that universities rely on for revenue.

The effort likely will draw opposition from environmentalists seeking to
halt the spread of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

University leaders, however, say they need a new approach to getting
potentially lifesaving products out of laboratories, where they sometimes
languish for lack of commercial interest.

"This will potentially make it easier to get (new technology) into the
hands of the people who need it," said Martina Newell-McGloughlin,
director of the UC biotechnology research and education program.

As part of the project, the University of California has been
commissioned to create a database of public patents on agricultural
technologies -- something that should eventually make them easier to share.

Alan Bennett, professor of vegetable crops at UC Davis, said the
initiative aims to position public institutions for future biotech
developments -- even if some existing technologies are hampered by
intellectual property curbs.

"We anticipate that there will be new waves of technology in the next
five to 10 years that will replace everything that is important today,"
he said. "We want to be prepared to manage those technologies in a way
that supports as much innovation as possible."

In the Science magazine article, top officials from many of the nation's
leading farm schools said several companies have made use of public
university research to boost production and reduce chemical use in major
crops such as corn and soy.

"Work on crops of less commercial interest has progressed slowly," said
the article. "Therefore, we ... are now collectively asking whether
institutions such as ours can do a better job in fulfilling our mission
in support of agriculture in the United States and developing countries."

University leaders said their institutions' research is increasingly
restricted because technologies belong to multiple public and private
parties. In one case, more than 40 patents and contracts constrained the
development of a vitamin-rich GMO rice.

Monsanto -- the world leader in genetically engineered crops -- said it
wouldn't interfere with the initiative.

"Overall, we see that it's a recognition of the importance of biotech and
it brings important new resources to ensure that biotechnology continues
to develop and the benefits are applied more broadly," said company
spokesman Bryan Hurley.

He said Monsanto has donated its work on a virus-resistant sweet potato
to researchers in Kenya.

But resistance is likely from the same kinds of groups that demonstrated
in Sacramento last month against the U.S. government's role in exporting
GMOs to developing countries.

Steve Scholl-Buckwald, co-director of the Pesticide Action Network North
America in San Francisco, wondered whether universities might simply be
using humanitarian goals to put a good face on controversial GMOs.

"I would think this is a way to keep a hand in the profit-driven
development of proprietary seeds," he said.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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D - 38116 Braunschweig

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