Patents for plants: context and current status
Dunwell, J. M. (2012) Patents for plants: context and current status. Acta Horticulturae, 941. pp. 125-138. ISSN 0567-7572
Official URL: http://www.actahort.org/books/941/941_10.htm
One of the important themes in any discussion concerning the application of genetic transformation technology in horticulture or elsewhere is the role of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). This term covers both the content of patents and the confidential expertise, usually related to methodology and referred to as “Trade Secrets”. This review will explain the concepts behind patent protection, and will discuss the wide-ranging scope of existing patents that cover novel genotypes of plants as well as all aspects of transgenic technology, from selectable markers and novel promoters to methods of gene introduction. Although few of these patents have any significant commercial value there are a small number of key patents that may restrict the “freedom to operate” of any company seeking to exploit the methods in the production of transgenic varieties. Over the last twenty years, these restrictions have forced extensive cross-licensing between ag-biotech companies and have been one of the driving forces behind the consolidation of these companies. Although such issues may have limited relevance in the horticultural sector, and are often considered to be of little interest to the academic scientist working in the public sector, they are of great importance in any debate about the role of “public-good breeding” and of the relationship between the public and private sectors.
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