This item from the New York Times online raises some tricky questions about conflicts of interests regarding funding. It describes a situation whereby a student at Harvard Medical School felt some of the information presented in the “protected space” of the learning environment “wasn’t as pure as…it should be” for reasons connected to professors being paid as consultants to drug companies. Reading some letters to the editor connected to this article further complications were raised– for example it was highlighted that often professors receive no income from the University directly, so these contributions maintain their employment.
What is the relevance of this to our CGIAR context? Well, as Public-Private-Partnerships are becoming more common it highlights that one cannot afford be naïve about what this might mean. Working with the private sector may bring up new and unfamiliar issues for centres. It takes time to negotiate and there needs to be a willingness to really go into the details of an agreement. This may well be at odds with a general pressure to reduce transaction time, but one should be realistic about what may be required in order to ensure the right results when entering into an agreement.
This article published last week by the New York Times (see lead link) and reprinted in the International Herald Tribune describes the frustration of a group of entomologists doing research at land grant universities in the U.S. regarding the contract conditions attached to the use of materials obtained from several major seed companies. These scientists have sent a letter the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicating that the have had difficulty in running the experiments needed to test hypotheses, regarding the optimal size(s) of refugia, because of the conditions proscribed by the owners of the materials when they were passed to the scientists for research studies. Everyone agrees that this research needs to be done. The scientists wonder, how this can be accomplished –given the contract language. Now, how will the EPA be able to ask whether their current regulations are sensible?
What does this have to do with intellectual property? Rights are awarded to patent holders; these rights can then be licensed to others. Owners of intellectual property rights have great liberty in the conditions associated with licensing the use of materials under patent protection. In corporations, the text of these licenses is usually under the control of legal departments. This can bring problems when lawyers see their job as one of reducing risk to as close to zero as possible. The situation described in this article perhaps provides an example of the difficulty lawyers have when trying to draft an agreement that provides sufficient room for a licensee to use the material in a productive way and yet also provides sufficient risk management for the licensor.
Here is a very interesting discussion by a patent attorney regarding this situation: http://www.patentdocs.org/2009/02/new-york-times-gets-one-right.html
Additional comments regarding U.S. regulatory agencies involved in approvals of GMOs from:
The above blog post was written by Victoria Henson-Apollonio
A draft of this post was circulated internally last week and Guat Hong Teh, a lawyer on the CAS-IP team had the following comment to make.
“In my view, putting the right language into licences that would enable both the licensor and licensee to achieve their goals (common or not) is a joint effort. Whilst it is reasonable to have some standardisation of legal language in these documents, both lawyer and scientist need to understand that a case-by-case approach is necessary when new situations emerge. A good piece of legal document requires extensive communication between all parties involved. However, there is sometimes a communication breakdown between the scientist and the lawyer because of the seemingly different roles they play or the goals they would like to see achieved. Although the duty of the lawyer is to ensure that his/her client is afforded the widest protection allowed under the law, this has to take into consideration other needs of the client. I see this to be an increasing challenge for what we do because of the rise in collaborative research, especially public-private partnerships.”
the National Partners Initiative
I’m continuing to blog from the the National Partners Initiative workshop being held in Mombasa. I have been talking to the participants this week about where they see IP making a positive contribution in agricultural research in their countries. I wanted to take this opportunity to share on this blog some of the comments:
“IP rights encourage scientists to develop their career & innovation. Patents and copyright provided incentives at a national research centre’ ”
“IP helps the potential to commercialize an R&D project. It adds value to the R&D and indicates a certain quality standard”
“IP improved income into local breeding institute”
“breeders work hard to find their own varieties – it gives breeder incentives and boosts their innovation when they have Plant Variety Protection”
“the grant of USPTO protection in the well-known cases of Tumeric and Basmati changed the face of IP in India. Law makers were mobilised and sped up the implementation of TRIPS. This has helped protect traditional knowledge and build livelihoods for producers in India.”
“IP awareness has an impact on the attention paid to IP clauses in agreements. It helps parties to understand roles and responsibilities and helps manage risk. By formalising in this way partnerships are more effective because a mutual understanding is reached.”
Posted in agriculture, development, general IP
Tagged agreements, cas-ip-msa09, China, copyright, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, NPI, patent, Tanzania, TRIPS