Intellectual Property Affects Rice Innovation

Most, if not every, current application of new technology to agricultural productivity requires access to proprietary enabling technologies belonging to others. To actually deliver commercial innovations in agriculture that are derived from modern biotechnology requires “Freedom to Operate”. Freedom to Operate refers to the permissive use of technology and materials in the research, development and delivery of products and processes.

Obtaining Freedom to Operate first requires an analysis of the intellectual property surrounding the technology area of interest. Intellectual property, and patents in particular, have potential to impact the production of rice. Patents on rice genes and proteins can have an effect on the research level by affecting access to the biotechnology tools used for rice improvement. It can also have an impact on a larger scale by influencing the structure of the industry that produces rice.

Impact of Rice Gene Patents on Rice Performance Improvements

In the area of rice performance, it is straightforward to envision how patents may have an impact. Many of the desirable agronomic traits are controlled by genes, proteins, or regulatory elements that are the subject of patents. In addition, the enabling technologies, such as Agrobacterium-mediated plant transformation, that allow rice researchers to create strains exhibiting desirable agronomic traits are the subject of patent applications or granted patents. With this landscape and other features of the Patent Lens, we hope to enable readers to determine the patent status of the genes associated with important agronomic traits.

Impact of Patents on Industry Structure

Patents can also have an impact on rice production on a larger scale. For example, a thicket of patents or pending patents may actually discourage investment in the downstream innovation often required to convert an interesting invention into a useful product. Patents may shift the demographics of the rice industry and affect who solves problems for whom.