Knowledge for Development

IP Case Studies

This folder highlights recent cases illustrating the success (or otherwise) of international agreements that aim to ensure that developing countries have access to and share the benefits of their genetic resources.

Bioprospecting approaches and experiences

IP Strategy Today, No.11, 2004. IP Strategy Today is an ejournal published by the SWIFTT programme at Cornell University to share creative and innovative ideas and experiences in intellectual property strategies and management related to global development and biotechnology in agriculture, the environment and health. This issue features three articles on bioprospecting. The first details the approaches and experiences of the Diversa Corporation, one of the larger investors in bioprospecting. The second describes an original approach adopted by Kina Biotech in Spain, in bioprospecting in Peru. The final article reviews bioprospecting partnerships in practice at INBio in Costa Rica. Forthcoming issues will include experiences on plant variety protection, partnership building, patent prosecution strategies for biotechnological inventions, and how to hire a lawyer without going bankrupt!


Andean nations clash with US on patenting life forms

IPS, 17 November 2004. Access to genetic resources in South America's Andean region, which holds a quarter of the planet's biodiversity, is a point of discord in the free trade agreement that the US has been negotiating with Colombia, Ecuador and Peru since May. The US proposal would establish free access to patenting plant and animal species, designated as 'inventions' in the chapter on intellectual property in the draft treaty. This approach violates the existing legislation of the Andean Community of Nations, which expressly prohibits patenting living species, except micro-organisms. After five rounds of talks, intellectual property and agriculture are the two areas where the parties remain divided. The US proposal for patenting plants and animals has generated concern throughout many different sectors of the Andean community.


WIPO-UNEP study on the role of intellectual property rights in the sharing of benefits arising from the use of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge

Anil K. Gupta, WIPO-UNEP, November 2004. This study identifies and explores the role of IPRs in the sharing of benefits arising from the use of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge. Agreement on how IP derived from access is used and how the benefits are shared is an important part of the exercise of prior informed consent, and an important practical way of ensuring a true partnership between custodian and user of the genetic resource. Three case studies, from Mali, Nigeria and India, highlight lessons learned that will be useful for policymakers and stakeholders in showing how the effective protection of IPRs can support the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, as well as the equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of biological and genetic resources.


Samoa to benefit from AIDS drug

The Scientist, 18(20) 25 October 2004. In an agreement that is being lauded as a model for the development and commercialization of drugs resulting from ethnobotany efforts, the University of California at Berkeley and the Pacific island nation of Samoa will share equally in royalties from the sales of an anti-AIDS drug derived from the genes of the Samoan native mamala tree. 'What's so important about this agreement is that the University of California is recognizing the intellectual contribution of the healers of Samoa and considers them a partner in this endeavor,' says Professor Jay Keasling, who will lead the research to isolate and clone the genes responsible for producing the drug in the mamala tree. The bark of the tree has long been used by native healers to treat hepatitis.


Biological Diversity Case Studies

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) website maintains a database of case studies from around the world that address many issues, including access to genetic resources and benefit sharing, and agricultural biodiversity.


US farm groups push for right to save patented seed

GRAIN BIO-IPR dossier, 13 July 2004. Bills have been recently filed in several US state legislatures, and now at the federal level, to give farmers the legal right to save patented seed. These proposals do not seek to prohibit seed patenting, but to allow farmers to legally save patented seed, without returning to corporate suppliers every year, against payment of a fee. At the same time, some US farm groups have been agitating about unfair competition from countries where seeds under patent in the US are grown by local farmers without paying the same royalties, licenses or technology user fees that US growers pay.


Hawaii 's bold bid for a bioprospecting bill

Seedling magazine, GRAIN, July 2004. Because of its geographical isolation, Hawaii has a high level of unique biological diversity, which makes its lands, waters and indigenous peoples appealing targets for bioprospectors. Of more than 22,000 known species on the islands, 8,850 are found nowhere else in the world. This fact was not lost on Diversa, a US corporation, and it wasted no time in drawing up a bioprospecting agreement with the University of Hawaii in 2002. Under the agreement, Diversa was given exclusive rights to discoveries based on genes drawn from existing material collections at the university and from new samples isolated from ocean resources in the future. This agreement, set against a backdrop of a legal vacuum regarding rights to biological resources in the state, prompted a number of native Hawaiian and other civil society organisations to push for legislation. The first bioprospecting bill, HB 2034, passed in March 2004, calls for a three-year prohibition on conveyance of rights, interests, and title to Hawaii 's genetic resources on all public lands, to allow time to develop more permanent regulations. While the bill wouldn't prohibit bioprospecting research or contracts, it would prevent the transfer of rights to those resources.


BioPiracy and Law of the Jungle

New Straits Times, 27 June 2004. It's not always gold at the end of the 'green' rainbow. Lots of promises may not necessarily translate into lots of cash. In the early 1950s, following clues from indigenous medicine men in Madagascar, researchers at Eli Lilly pharmaceuticals extracted two powerful cancer-fighting alkaloids from the rosy periwinkle: vinblastine and vincristine. Global sales of the two substances, patented by Eli Lilly, earned it hundreds of millions of dollars, but not a sen went to Madagascar or the medicine men. A notorious example in a long history of such incidences, the rosy periwinkle case would today be termed biopiracy.


DuPont and Syngenta support the Global Crop Biodiversity Trust

WBCSD, 15 March 2004. DuPont and Syngenta have pledged $1 million to the Global Crop Biodiversity Trust, an international organization dedicated to the long-term conservation of crop diversity. This marks the first private sector contributions to this partnership initiative between the FAO, the 16 CGIAR Future Harvest Centres and various government aid agencies. The Trust estimates that the world contains about 250,000 species of flowering plants, but that one in 12 now seem likely to disappear before 2025. In response to this threat, the Trust aims to provide a permanent source of funding for crop diversity collections around the world.


Minding Culture: Case Studies on Intellectual Property and Traditional Cultural Expressions

WIPO press release, 15 March 2004. A collection of case studies on how the IP system can respond to the needs and expectations of the custodians of traditional cultures and knowledge. The case studies provide traditional communities, as well as policymakers, legislators and other stakeholders, with realistic options and new ideas for future policy development. Collection of case studies (pdf).


Study takes critical look at benefit sharing of genetic resources and traditional knowledge

WIPO press release, 10 February 2004. WIPO and UNEP Voluntary 'Access and Benefit Sharing' Case Studies from Africa and Asia. A study commissioned by WIPO and UNEP highlights the complexities of how best to recompense countries, communities and indigenous peoples for the knowledge and genetic resources they hold, and the practicalities of ensuring that benefits from access and use of these resources are shared equitably. The study features two cases - a 'wonder' medicine derived from an Indian plant with apparent fatigue-busting properties, and a gene from a wild West African rice which is being used in the multi-billion dollar biotech industry - that demonstrate the potential benefits and pitfalls of current benefit sharing agreements. The study highlights the shortcomings of existing voluntary agreements and suggests ways that these may be improved to ensure that the real custodians of genetic resources and traditional knowledge on which promising agricultural discoveries are based have a share in the derived benefits.


US patent likely for new strain of fragrant Pathum Thani rice

Bangkok Post, 14 January 2004. The US has agreed to patent Thailand's Pathum Thani 1 rice strain under its plant variety protection law. 'The government was aware of the dangers of biopiracy, so we used the WTO regulations on intellectual property rights to protect our plant varieties,' said Wicha Thitiprasert, director of the Thai Agriculture Department's Plant Varieties Protection Division. By obtaining the patent in the US, plant breeders and rice farmers in other countries, including America, would not be allowed to make use of the rice strain. Thailand will now become the only country in the world that can export Pathum Thani 1 rice to the US. Prathum Thani 1 was developed from Kao Dok Mali 105 fragrant rice, better known as Hom Mali rice, by the department in 2000. The new high-grade rice strain is said to be less fragrant but just as tasty as jasmine rice. The rice is resistant to pests and diseases and can be grown year-round.


Private-Sector Perceptions of Public Agricultural Research: A Case Study in Costa Rica

ISNAR Briefing Paper 67, 2003. by F. Hartwich et al. The study analyzed how private agribusinesses in Costa Rica perceive public agricultural research organizations and universities. If public research organizations are to form effective partnerships with private companies with regard to technological innovation, they must be more proactive in providing service and show that they are capable of responding to companies' demands, under agreed ownership arrangements. However, forming such partnerships should not become an overriding aim: public research organizations should only consider collaborating with, and rendering services to, private institutions when to do so is compatible with the public interest.


Prickly dispute finally laid to rest: San reach agreement with CSIR over use of appetite-suppressing cactus

Business Day(Johannesburg) Opinion, 22 March 2002 . For thousands of years the San have used the Hoodia cactus as an appetite suppressant and thirst quencher. The cactus is potentially worth a fortune, because it could very well be the first plant to give rise to a commercially viable appetite suppressant drug. The central issue in the tale of the cactus, the San, and the international drug companies, is what benefits will the San derive from all of this?


Neem patent revoked by European Patent Office

Chakravarthi Raghavan, 11 May 2000. The European Patent Office (EPO) has acted to revoke a patent granted earlier to a fungicide derived from the Indian medicinal tree, Neem. The challengers had demanded the invalidation of the patent on the ground that the fungicide qualities of the neem and its use have been known in India for over 2000 years, and for use to make insect repellents, soaps, cosmetics and contraceptives. In revoking the patent, the EPO agreed that the patent amounted to bio-piracy and that the process for which the patent had been granted had actually been in use in India from time immemorial. The successful challenge has implications for other cases of bio-piracy as well as for amendments to the Indian patent law (to comply with the WTO). An earlier Indian government challenge in the US led to the revocation of a patent on another Indian plant, turmeric, whose medicinal qualities have been known for centuries.


Herbalists shed light on natural mosquito repellent

SciDev.Net, 9 December 2004. An alliance between traditional healers and scientists from South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has led to the development of a mosquito-repelling candle due to go on sale early next year. The candle was developed from a plant used for centuries by herbalists in the north-east of the country where malaria is rife. Branches of the aromatic plant have traditionally been hung in homes there to ward off mosquitoes. "We work with the Traditional Healers Committee, which represents thousands of healers nationally who believe that science and technology can add value to indigenous knowledge," says Marthinus Horak, manager of the CSIR's bioprospecting programme. The researchers are keeping secret the identity of mosquito-repelling plant because of fears that others will attempt to collect specimens for commercial exploitation. The healers' association will receive a proportion of the royalties and CSIR will receive income from licensing agreements with candle manufacturers.


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