Agricultural Biotechnology 'Should Be Open Source'

T. V. Padma | SciDev.Net | September 13, 2012

Open source biotechnology, through which biotechnology inventions are made freely available for others to use and improve upon, could help developing countries overcome hurdles created by stringent intellectual property rights (IPRs), a study says.

The concept is based on open source in software development. To date, open source software's free accessibility, low cost, openness to modification and customisation, and availability of community support have helped it solve practical problems in agriculture, education, environment and health in developing countries. Now a team from the UN University, in Tokyo, Japan, is suggesting that a similar approach in biotechnology could help break the IPR 'logjam' that is slowing down development and diffusion of agricultural technologies.

In a study published in the August issue of Technology in Society, the authors point out that private firms dominate research and development in agriculture biotechnology. Furthermore, they say, just three multinational firms account for about 80 per cent of biotech patents in the 'cultivars' (varieties selected intentionally through cultivation) category. Multinationals also dominate the seed industry, and tend to focus on crops that reap profits, while ignoring the 'orphan' crops central to livelihoods in developing countries, authors say...