Monthly Archives: September 2008

Research advances in Africa not reaching farmers in the field
This is an article that appeared on SciDev.Net at the beginning of the month after the African Green Revolution Conference in Oslo.  The item was entitled “Agricultural developments ‘failing to reach farmers’”.  Chief Executive of the Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation Florence Wambugu was quoted as talking of the “need to plug the gap between the lab and the field”.  The article touches on the way some organisations are hoping to tackle this problem.  Please note that since the article first came out there have been a couple of interesting comments left by readers – well worth a read!

New DG for WIPO makes his acceptance speech
This week the new DG of WIPO, Francis Gurry gave his acceptance speech to the WIPO General Assembly.  See the above IPKat blog post for the “substantive IP bits”.    I am waiting for some reactions from colleagues about this, and will update the post shortly with their points of view.
Coinciding with the welcome of Gurry, there seems to be no shortage of articles providing and pointing to critical analysis of the current patent system.  This week the BBC reported  on a report from the International Expert Group on Biotechnology, Innovation and Intellectual Property.  It talks of “old” and “new” IP models, problems associated with “Fortress IP”, and the need to form partnerships to encourage sharing and collaboration.  Click here for the complete report.   Quoting the president of the group, Richard Gold; “The era of Old intellectual property – the overuse of patents, copyrights and trade-marks – is ending.”

Increased use of free online tools – protected certainly doesn’t mean inaccessible.
Having finally discovered Google Docs I was considering freeing up some much needed space on my laptop and working completely online.   Paying for access to MSOffice products for so long, it seems almost unbelievable that a valid alternative to many of its products is available for free!  Then whilst browsing I spotted this article on the Dennis Kennedy “Twitter” feed and I realised I am not alone.  Some 21% of those questioned for this article are now word processing online.  I am still feeling somewhat attached to the familiarity of MSOffice, and I’m not ready to make a switch yet.  But it is nice to know there is an alternative, and proof that protecting IP certainly doesn’t have mean access to the product is locked away from common access.

Food aid, food crises and stimulation of functioning market places
There is a blog out there I was reading today called the “Private Sector Development Blog” (strapline; “a market approach to development thinking”).    They have a great line up of writers for their blog and given the new market driven attitude to development (from donors such as Gates) I expect to consult this blog more regularly to hear their take on things.  Anyway, that wasn’t the main reason for my post today.  The specific article I have linked to was looking at a report published by Care International this month calling for reform of the food aid system.  One of the points raised in the report deals with investment in agriculture – and it mentions the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme of which one of the main aims is to “increase agricultural research and systems to disseminate appropriate new technologies, and increase the support given to help farmers to adopt them.”  See article  and NEPAD site for more details of this initiative.  Those who deal with technology transfer in this area might like to keep an eye on this for developments.  Before uploading this post, I showed it to my colleague Peter Bloch, who is a TT specialist, and he had the following comments:

“The report “makes the very reasonable argument that more aid money ought to be spent helping prevent food disasters rather than simply responding to emergencies once they arise” and PSD Blog goes on to observe that political structures in developing countries are a critical factor in the success of food aid projects. The CG’s Change Management initiative has generated a number of reports and opinions indicating that in order for the CG to meets its mission goals it will need to be more effective in engaging with the private sector.  This is equally true of any attempt to develop long-term solutions to food shortages.  One model for this is the West Africa Seed Alliance which seeks to stimulate the development of market driven distribution chains for agricultural products.  Long term approaches to food shortages will need to engage ag research agencies, public organizations such as FAO and the private sector (e.g., seed, fertilizer and  investment companies) and the challenge then becomes the design of PPPs which can serve disparate agendas and, at the same time, build sustainable food supply chains.”

The problem with the patent system; too many lawyers and not enough inventors?
In an article about the Peer-to-Patent programme“too many lawyers and not enough inventors” was one of the criticisms of the current US patent system ( story link above).  Unfortunately, and jokes aside, that’s not the only criticism.  An overwhelmed system, backlogs of applications as well as changes in pace of technology are some of the reasons contributing to an increase in poor quality patents.  And poor quality patents means more time spent in infringement litigation, which nobody wants (apart from the lawyers perhaps!).  The article outlines some of the opinions for and against the Peer-to-Patent programme, and some of the history and reasoning that lead to its launch.  It could spell an important change in the way patents are issued, and more importantly to the CGIAR, how prior art is identified.

Patents & commercialisation issues; the Indian “Bayh-Dole”
An article in SciDev Net earlier in the month talked about the possible introduction of a law in India to promote technology transfer by encouraging an increase in university patenting.  The new law is inspired by the US Bayh-Dole Act (background to this act can be found on the AUTM website:
The SciDev article calls for more debate, as there are concerns the legislation has been pulled together too quickly.  The Spicy IP blog is tracking the development of this bill  (In fact, it was one of SpicyIPs bloggers who wrote the piece for SciDev Net.)  The discussions around this issue are interesting as they raise important questions about commercialisation and the provision for public goods that could be of interest those in the CGIAR.

Patents that can be (in effect) public goods
This article is an update on the Eco-Patent Commons initiative.  Less than a year since its launch this project seems to be gaining momentum.  Two of the most recent pledged patents mentioned in the article relevant to our field are:

“A cutting edge, Xerox technology that significantly reduces the time and cost of removing hazardous waste from water and soil;
A technology developed by DuPont that converts certain non-recyclable plastics into beneficial fertilizer;”

A while back when I first blogged something about the Eco-patent commons, I saw that the commons has the following ‘rule’. 

“Members of the Eco-Patent Commons (known as “pledgers”) sign a nonassert pledge promising not to enforce the donated patents against those who use the patented technology to achieve an environmentally beneficial result (known as “implementers”).”

So, it works in a HUL-kind-of-way in that “implementers” have special licence to use the patent as they are achieving an environmentally beneficial result.  Except that licence is automatic, and the onus is on the rights holder to enforce – the upside to this being small business on the ground can go ahead and use the technologies without having to negotiate licensing terms.  Sounds sensible?!

Prior to making this post I sent the draft to my colleague Guat Hong Teh, the CAS-IP, IP Specialist, to ask what she thought about it.  She wrote:

“I had a quick glance at the website of the WBCSD – fascinating indeed! I think I have a rather different perspective from you in terms of how I see this piece of news. The first thing that came to my mind when I read this was:
How can we (in the public sector/the CGIAR) further encourage PPPs in agriculture/development-related projects through mechanisms such as corporate social responsibility and other models that would work for businesses to engage in our activities in the public sector? In recent years we have seen technology owners to be more active in creating “open’s” or “commons”, licensing innovations broadly for development purposes/for use in developing countries (such as through HULs), and putting forward “non-assert clauses” such as in the particular instance. These are all different creative ways used by IP owners to carve out exceptions to their rights, over and above those granted under the law.  Also, what is interesting about this news is the fact that technologies can sometimes (or even often times?), be applied across different disciplines. Are we in the public sector harnessing these existing innovations for the benefit of the poor engaging in agriculture?”

Update to recent post on open access

After posting this blog item I emailed Peter Suber to ask what his thoughts were on this issue. For those who don’t know Peter Suber, he describes himself as “an independent policy strategist for open access to scientific and scholarly research literature”.  His blog “Open Access News”  is well known in the OA world. 

I asked him a) what he thought of the news item (particularly as it involved the Wellcome Trust who are strong OA supporters) and b) if he thought the privacy issue might have a knock-on impact to other data collections (that have nothing to do with patient information).  He responded as follows:

“I blogged the news on August 30, and just updated my post to include
 the Nature News article you pointed out,  The NIH is as strong a supporter of OA as the Wellcome Trust.  But on medical data, both agree that privacy takes priority, or that only anonymized medical data can be made OA.  What’s interesting to me is that the method for identifying individuals from these data was discovered after the data were thought sufficiently private and put online.  Since scientific ingenuity is always at work that suggests there may be a steadily creeping expansion of privacy exception to OA.

I’m not very alarmed, in part because the same scientific ingenuity can find new ways to anonymize data, and in part because I share the view that patient privacy takes priority.

Because I don’t work in the field, I have no opinion on whether the NIH/Wellcome action was really necessary to protect privacy.  But I don’t think the action will have any effect on OA datasets where privacy is not an issue”

I would like to thank Peter for taking the time to respond to my email and for allowing me to blog his responses to share them here.

Patenting activity and international policy debate in lifesciences

This is an article from a recent WIPO magazine.  What the article says is that the patent sytem can provide key indicators for policy makers by looking questions such as:

“How much of the rice genome has been patented? By whom? What is the practical impact of this for farmers, breeders and agricultural researchers? What is the geographical coverage of patents on key technologies …. for plant biotechnology, … where is technology already in the public domain? What technological and commercial opportunities do these offer developing countries? What are the implications for multilateral agreements in the fields of health, plant genetic resources and the environment?”

Specifially relating to agricultural biotech the following was of interest:
“Working with the FAO, an expert team using inputs from India, Brazil, Europe and North America developed an overview of patent activities on gene promoters – key tools used in agricultural biotechnology. The landscaping contrasts the different technological and commercial patterns developed around several key food crops – soybeans, maize, potato and rice. This is intended to guide policymakers implementing the international system for benefit sharing resulting from the use of plant genetic resources in developing new agricultural products.”

Of course, the patent system is a complicated and constantly moving target.  However, this WIPO article suggests that progress is being made to mine this data to enhance policy debates.  The information is there, it was always an objective of the patent system to exchange this knowledge – now, with online access the focus is on how to process and use this distillation of research results!

Thankfully someone is reading click-wrap licences! Google Chrome and its user agreement

The CAS IP Specialist Guat Hong Teh sent me this article today.  Part of the article is a short film describing the features of Google’s latest open source offering – the web browser “Chrome”.  But, the devil was in the detail when “an oversight” surfaced regarding the text in the user agreement.  Basically the initial agreement claimed rights over “any content which you submit, post or display on or through” the browser.  As Guat Hong emailed me:

“Imagine the content of our blog or website being owned by Google if one uses Chrome…all the possible public goods that might then become private goods rather quickly and easily… “