Monthly Archives: September 2009

Sharing knowledge despite bandwidth and technology issues

 NYTimes article: “Dailing for Answers Where Web Can’t Reach”

A question that often pops up in Knowledge Sharing circles is “how can we share knowledge effectively in low bandwidth regions?

The above New York Times article highlights an example of how this can be possible.  Exploiting the growing mobile phone use in Africa, (and the article quotes that “nearly 300 million Africans now have cellphones“) an initiative called “Question Box” was formed.  

Questions from rural areas are asked by phone, to operators in a central office who then conduct the online and database searches.  There is a video clip showing the service in action on the Question Box blog.  Whilst this example is a light hearted one, the the New York Times article also talks of plans to tailor the service to farmers for agricultural information.

A “new biology” for the world’s most pressing problems

Ref: item on MITnews.  An interview with MIT institute Professor Phillip Sharp who recently called for the US to “build upon recent scientific developments” and work towards solving some of the world’s most pressing problems; food, energy, climate and health.

Victoria Henson-Apollonio Senior Scientist and Manager of CAS-IP, spotted the link and made the following comment:

“Agriculture is likely going to get an influx of “new blood”.  Those scientists that have been working in health are going to be looking for conquering new territories.  We should welcome them with open arms.  We are soon going to be in the fast lane and we’ll make lots of technical progress.  We all need to do a better job of translating this into reducing poverty and improving livelihoods in a sustainable way.”

Patent Exchange. A future in IPR trading?

Market mechanisms applied to IPRs could see an “acceleration in the pace of innovation” according to an article in the NYTimes last week.  The idea is that if a market place for patents could develop, there could be a decrease of patent litigation.  Independent inventors could sell off their patents in the hope they would receive a “faster, simpler and less risky payoff“.

The Rational Patent Exchange was quoted in the article as an illustration of one of the emerging players in this market.  The long-term vision of the organisation is to ensure:

“the patent holder is fairly compensated, but the corporate users have access to technology with minimal transactional costs”

The next green revolution: WARNINGS

M. S. Swaminathan was one of the keynote speakers at the 2nd World Seed Conference held recently in Rome. He is credited with being one of the fathers of the Green Revolution

His speech can be downloaded at:

One of his key points was that:

“This (the next green revolution) should be achieved without harm to the ecological foundations essential for sustainable agriculture. The green revolution should become an ever-green revolution…without ecological harm.”

Speaking as a member of the final panel discussion, he went further and talked specifically about the damage in India caused by over use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.   See the general interest article that appeared earlier this year in National Geographic which discusses this issue.

The next Green Revolution is underway in Africa with dozens of organizations (including ICRISAT with its seed alliances) focusing on increasing agricultural output. The topic of sustainability is gaining traction, and Malawi farmer association NASFAM comments in its June 2009 newsletter, “Titukulane”, that:

“….there have been damaging consequences of the methods used. The use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides has damaged the environment and ecosystems, impoverished the soil and polluted water supplies. The use of hybrid seeds has reduced biodiversity and created mono-cultures which are susceptible to disease and epidemics….The costs of dealing with these problems are hidden and carried by society in general. “

NASFAM is taking this mission seriously, and in the same newsletter (available to members) has a new section on Conservation Agriculture in which it provides detailed instructions targeting s/h farmers on a range of activities they can easily adopt. There is also a very well written feature on Turning your green plant residues to “gold” which describes how to make natural compost.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

Google Books & its contribution to a wider copyright debate

I have blogged more than once about this issue recently.   The Google Books debate is interesting from the standpoint of considering how legal rules and procedures can/can’t (should/shouldn’t!) adapt to a rapidly changing external environment and to new business models.  In music publishing for example, the legal infrastructure and business models have yet to synchronise with consumer behaviour.  (See CAS-IP blog here, here and here).

IP Kat ran an item this week examining the progress of the Google Books debate in the US.  They say the outlook is bleak for the Google settlement as it stands.   Of course the focus of the legal debate has to be around the principles of copyright and how they need to be applied, which is inherently conservative.  Concurrent to the US decision the EU is discussing how Google Books could affect European publishing which sounds from first glance to be a little more flexible.

There was an EC hearing on the matter in Brussels earlier this month and the statement released from the Commissioners had the language of change and of embracing new opportunities.

From a press release from the meeting the following heading was used:

“It is time for Europe to turn over a new e-leaf on digital books and copyright”. Joint Statement of EU Commissioners Reding and McCreevy on the occasion of this week’s Google Books meetings in Brussels”

and the joint statement went on to say:

“Digitisation of books is a task of Herculean proportions which the public sector needs to guide, but where it also needs private-sector support. It is therefore time to recognise that partnerships between public and private bodies can combine the potential of new technologies and private investments with the rich collections of public institutions built up over the centuries. If we are too slow to go digital, Europe’s culture could suffer in the future…. “.

The statement pointed out that some 90% of European libraries’ collections  are orphan and out-of-print works.  There is much knowledge at stake!  Surely any initiative to help ensure this work isn’t buried in redundant formats must be given more than a fighting chance, even if it means big changes in the way we deal with copyright along the way.

The final chapter in the “Enola” case has closed

We have been impatiently waiting for the moment we can finally, finally consider the “Enola” matter laid to rest.  That moment has now come….  Please see link to a news release from CAS-IP.

Picture by Neil Palmer, CIAT.

Picture by Neil Palmer, CIAT.

The U.S Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) dismissed the claims of the original “Enola” patent in July 2009.  See our blog entry on the news.  However, shortly afterwards POD-NERS petitioned for a panel rehearing, arguing that the panel had misapplied the court’s obviousness precedent.  Today we received word that the POD-NERS petition for rehearing was denied on the 16th September 2009.

From this experience, it is clear that information and research results produced by public organisations such as the CGIAR should be clearly and easily accessible to patent examiners.  The examiners at the USPTO describe great difficulty in finding printed material about yellow beans during the patent examination process.  On re-examination however, a previous publication on some yellow beans served as ‘legal’ prior art in this case.  Together with information on gene typing that was submitted by CIAT scientists it was possible to clearly show that certain yellow beans and Enola were in fact the same.

This highlights the legal and practical utility of making publications more widely accessible, and directly through the databases accessed by patent examiners.

One such step CAS-IP, ICRISAT and CIAT have been involved in is an initiative to put publications in front of patent examiners. Under a Memorandum of Understanding executed with the EPO, publications are periodically uploaded onto the EPO’s own Non-Patent Literature database.  This is the in-house database that EPO examiners use.  This ensures that prior art searches will immediately include research results and information published by centre scientists (see our blog post explaining the initiative).   CAS-IP is pressing forward to facilitate having other Centers and public agricultural institutes sign up to this program.  In addition, CAS-IP is working with other patent offices such as the US Patent and Trademark Office, (USPTO), and ICRISAT is working with the Indian Patent Office to find additional means for easy ways to provide patent examiners with information.

Finally, back to “Enola” — congratulations to CIAT, and to all those who were involved (including CAS-IP) an the effort that only annulled the “Enola” patent, but also raised awareness which could help avoid this kind of misappropriation of public goods in the future.

“Modern seeds”, traditional varieties and Plant Variety Protection (PVP)
Interesting article from  It deals with a thorny collection of the issues surrounding seed, increasing use of UPOV protection by seed developers, the rights of farmers, genetic diversity and the livelihoods of poor farmers.

The AllAfrica write up also references a news release that was on the International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED) website.  This article also includes several references to the loss of benefit to small-scale farmers from new variety development.  The IIED say in their post:

“Small-scale farmers rarely benefit when outsiders such as corporate plant breeders make use of their traditional seeds to develop new varieties, because the plant breeders acquire the intellectual property rights when they test and register the new varieties.”

It is worth pointing out that IPRs over a new variety don’t affect the rights of the traditional variety used in the breeding.  The public sector should be aware of the workings of the formal IP sector to be able protect its public goods effectively.  Being proactive about cataloguing and listing known varieties in common knowledge databases will avoid confusion about what is new and what is not!  This is critical information to a PVP examiner processing an application for a “new” variety.   The PVP system could also help ensure existing knowledge remains free from restriction, but of course only if that “existing knowledge” is specified and accessible to examiners.

Seems we weren’t the only ones to raise an eyebrow at the IIED article.  See the post (and subsequent debate) on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog from earlier this month.  It picks up on the subject of genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs).  It’s a good read!

Thanks to Kalpana Sastry, Principal Scientist at NAARM for sending the AllAfrica link.

Final day of the World Seed Conference; the Policy Forum

The last day of the world seed conference was dedicated to a policy forum to encourage discussions.  A panel composed of representatives from all organizing institutions and their partners were given the opportunity to react to questions raised from the audience.

Before the open discussions the moderators of the sessions on the previous days were summing up their session’s main messages. In the course of this, the head of the organizing committee, Bernard Le Buanec, mentioned that:

“IP protection is crucial for a sustainable contribution of plant breeding and seed supply”.

In the later discussions, Victoria Henson-Apollonio picked that point up by asking the panel where it sees the role of IP practitioners in the advancement of the seed sector development.  The panelists agreed to the importance of IP management yet there was no clear message as to how IP policies would actually contribute to implementation and adoption.

It was nonetheless encouraging to hear their consensus on the subject matter and to hear Mr Orlando de Ponti, President of the International Seed Federation (ISF) welcoming the CGIAR’s efforts towards IP.   Victoria had mentioned that there were 6 CAS-IP legal participants in the audience to which Orlando had responded:

“you are six and the private sector has at least a thousand so good luck and keep up the good work”.

Post written by Sebastian Poehlmann, consultant to CAS-IP

Blogging from the World Seed Conference
This week the CAS-IP team have been attending the World Seed Conference taking place at the FAO in Rome.  The audience is from a wide range of backgrounds, public and private sector, seed companies and farmer group representatives, breeders and policy makers.

Presentations from the programme are available on the conference web site.

As expected Intellectual Property (patents and PVP) were mentioned several times during the day.  One context of interest was the relationship of increased yields, plant breeding that leads to utilization of genetics and the introduction of IPRs over varieties –all three of these initiated in the 1960s.  A graph that appeared again and again throughout the day tied these factors together into a compelling display showing a sharp curve for yield increases in various crops in various regions (both developed and developing countries).

During the summing up Mr Orlando de Ponti, President of the International Seed Federation (ISF) noted the concurrence of increased yields and IP protection.  Perhaps the situation has become more complicated in recent years, with biotechnology crops, especially those that include protected inputs – However it is a reminder to keep an open mind about formal intellectual property protection in the context of development.

More news on the Google Books debate
We recently blogged an item about the Google Books lawsuit.  The issue is receiving a lot of mainstream news coverage, see the Guardian and the BBC coverage on the topic:
According to the Guardian article a hearing will be held this week at the European commission to “examine the impact of an agreement between American authors, publishers and Google to resuscitate millions of out-of-print, in-copyright books“.  I am keeping a look out for news on this and keep the blog updated.