“Grist” focus on Innovation Cartography

Cambia Patent Lens,  October 28, 2013

Author: Nathanael Johnson

A 16th-century Dutchman can tell us everything we need to know about GMO patents

Richard Jefferson was talking fast, too fast for me to take notes. He was trying to explain what’s wrong with our food system, and what to do about it, but there was too much to say, and we’d already stretched the lunch hour past its breaking point. He kept moving forkloads of salad toward his mouth, but the food couldn’t swim up the cascade of words. It always ended up back on his plate.

Jefferson talks this way because he’s passionate, and because he’s a polymath. He was on the team of public scientists that created the first transgenic plants (one day before Monsanto did it). He invented a genetic marker that earned him notoriety in the field. Then he became an intellectual property expert and created a framework for open-source biological invention. Now, he’s trying to radically transform the entire system of innovation to make it more inclusive and local: He wants a system that empowers farmers in Africa to invent their own solutions, rather than looking to multinational corporations for fixes.

This sounds like it falls somewhere on the spectrum between shooting at the moon and tilting at windmills, but he’s been able to persuade some serious funders — the Gates Foundation, the Lemelson Foundation, and others — to back him.

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