Seed World

Incentivizing the Development of New Products for European Farmers

An effective intellectual property framework is needed for plant biotechnology.

For decades, the plant breeding and seed sector has been investing in agricultural innovation and new technologies, yielding numerous benefits for farmers and the environment. As we navigate the challenges posed by climate change, it is evident that innovation in plant biotechnology will need to play a more pivotal role than ever. Therefore, it is crucial for Europe to maintain a predictable, balanced, and effective intellectual property (IP) framework to stimulate innovation in plant biotechnology.

In my view, plant biotechnology should not be treated differently from any other field of technology. Like other sectors, it should benefit from the availability of patents, contributing to societal progress. 

Benefits of IP

By acquiring an IP right, the creators get an exclusive right over the use of their creation for a certain limited period. An interesting aspect of IP protection and the associated knowledge sharing is its support for incremental innovation, which enables anyone to build upon others’ ideas and advancements.

Olivier Sauvageot

IP provides incentives for investments in R&D and fosters knowledge sharing. It also significantly contributes to the economy with IP-intensive industries generating a substantial portion of economic activity and employment in the EU.

Analyses have shown that IP-intensive industries generate 42 per cent of the total economic activity in the EU and 38 per cent of all employment.

Moreover, the benefits extend to farmers, downstream processors and consumers with studies showing that approximately 75 per cent of the economic benefits of a patented agricultural innovative technology go to these stakeholders. Additionally, patents serve as a critical vehicle for technology transfer. 

It is therefore vital to challenge misconceptions that suggest patents have a role in creating monopolies and to recognize that patent protection is also critical for SMEs and research organizations to compete and bring new technologies to the market. A competitive Europe is in the interest of the public and the European community, making it crucial to carefully consider the potential consequences of any change in patent regulations on innovation and competitiveness.

Different Types of IP for Different Inventions

To continue fostering innovation and maintain a competitive breeding sector, Europe requires both Plant Variety Protection (PVP) and patent rights. PVP is essential for protecting plant varieties, ensuring that breeders can secure their innovative breeding efforts.

While PVP is extremely suitable for new plant varieties, I’d like to underline that innovation in plant breeding goes beyond the creation of new plant varieties. Plant breeders and the seed sector also work on developing novel technologies and traits that can only be protected by patent rights. With patent protection, an inventor can safeguard the innovative technique or new trait component created with technical tools for a limited time. Patents are and will continue to be the only and best available vehicle to protect novel technologies and traits.

Access to Patented Material

The patentability of New Genomic Techniques is a contentious issue that has sparked concerns among breeders and farmers. Some worry that access to protected genetic material for breeding may become increasingly difficult and costly. This ongoing debate revolves around the need to strike a balance between ensuring affordable products for farmers and allowing innovators to recoup their investments.

The heated discussion surrounding the patentability of plant-related inventions is far from reaching a resolution. Despite a decade of political debate and legislative changes, the legal boundaries in this area remain ambiguous, suggesting that the debate could persist for many more years and posing challenges for all involved stakeholders.

In this context, there are two very pragmatic seed sector-led platforms that facilitate access to patented traits in commercial biological material, namely the International Licensing Platform Vegetable (ILP) and the Agricultural Crop Licensing Platform (ACLP). These platforms ensure that patented material can be used for further breeding and product development. Specifically, through these initiatives, any breeder can make use of patented traits of platform members in their breeding programs. In addition, the Euroseeds PINTO Database enables transparency by providing information on what varieties contain patented elements.

A Win-win for EU Agriculture

The debate on intellectual property rights in plant biotechnology is crucial for shaping the future of agriculture in Europe. It is essential to strike a balance that fosters innovation while ensuring access to innovative technologies and materials. By doing so, Europe can continue to lead the way in sustainable agriculture and biotechnological innovation. 

As I described above, the seed sector is actively involved in promoting a fair and open IP landscape that ensures both protection and access to innovation. This work is part of the seed sector’s larger commitment to providing farmers with the innovative agricultural tools that they need for sustainable food production.

Editor’s Note: Olivier Sauvageot is Head IP Seeds & Biotech EAME at Syngenta