Institutional Responses on Strengthened Intellectual Property Rights in Agriculture and Needs' Assessment on Intellectual Property Management of Public Research Institutions in Asian Developing Countries

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Introduction

Public research universities are the main source for new technologies and innovations in developing countries. As intellectual property rights (IPRs) are expanded to include the agricultural sector, universities must adapt by taking on new roles and challenges to drive the implementation of new agricultural models in these societies. IPRs are rights over IP conferred by law, and form part of a nation's policy to encourage invention, innovation, and dissemination of technology for economic development. IPRs is a broad term used to cover patents, trademarks, plant breeders' rights, copyright, trade secrets and other types of rights that the law gives for the protection of investment in creative effort and knowledge creation.

A lively debate has emerged in the academic literature about possible implications of IPRs to public agricultural research. Such implications of IPRs, in general, can be divided into three themes: access of proprietary technologies, conduct of R&D, and dissemination of research results. With IP protection becoming a norm for public research institutions, it is also an open issue as to how many agricultural innovations will be available in the public domain, and how many will be patented and available for a fee (Maredia, Oehmke, & Byerlee, 2004). Sociologists of science, who use the tools of humanities and social sciences to study science and technology as a social activity, find this as a violation of scientific cultural norms because, to them, scientific progress is linked with an ideal of free and open dissemination of scientific information. Expansion of IPRs will restrict free circulation of ideas and will adversely affect and/or impede dissemination of new technologies and innovations and exchange of information among scientists, an important aspect of scientific research.

Hence, under this changing environment for IPR protection, agricultural research organizations in developing countries need to analyze efficient and effective ways of acquisition of new technologies or products. Access to new technologies and modern scientific methods covered by IPRs would require them to negotiate deals and execute formal licensing agreements (Maredia, Erbisch, Ives, & Fischer, 1999; Van Wijk & Komen, 1993). For institutions with budget constraints, these developments mean that they need to seek assistance for a freedom to operate (FTO)--the ability to practice or use an innovation or proprietary technologies royalty-free for research. Graft, Cullen, Bradford, Zilberman, & Bennett (2003) and Heller & Eisenberg (1998) claimed that these IPR-related mechanisms are additional transaction costs and serve as a barrier for these institutions that can stifle further scientific progress, since without agreement of waiver of IPRs, research delays could occur.

Likewise, the increased push for IPR protection for publicly funded research means that research institutions also need to investigate the possibility of their own organizations developing the means of protection and commercialization of their technologies and products (Salazar, Falconi, Komen, & Cohen, 2000). Public sector institutions in developed countries, especially US universities, have increased their patenting and commercialization of their research outputs, especially in modern agricultural biotechnology (Heisey, King, & Rubenstein, 2005). For Thursby & Thursby (2002), these shift research agenda of these institutions while Aghion, Bloom, Griffith, & Howitt (2002) claimed that IPRs can limit the process of cumulative scientific discovery. As Davis, Larsen, & Lotz (2000) claimed, the freedom to choose research subjects by public sector scientists may come under pressure whenever institutions "behave like firms." Institutions are encouraged or even forced to produce patentable research results that are commercially viable, discouraging non-patentable research.

Public research institutions in developing countries have evolved in a world without IPRs. …