Ask Us Anything About GMOs!

Q:
I have three questions that arise from a blog post by Steve Savage that appeared at Biofortified.org [http://www.biofortified.org/2013/03/a-defense-of-plant-and-crop-related-patents/] 1. Quoting the article: "A company that has developed a new trait has the option of only commercializing in their own seed lines or of licensing it broadly even to their competitors. Monsanto picked the later path with their Roundup Ready Soybeans, and even though farmers rapidly adopted the technology and used it in over 90% of what they planted, those seeds were purchased from many different seed company competitors whose elite germplasm was every bit as important for the sale as that one trait." Can you explain what license terms might be typical for allowing other seed companies to utilize a patented biotech trait? Also, if my understanding is correct, the licensee does not just sell a Monsanto variety, they incorporate the biotech trait into their own varieties. Is this correct and how is this done? 2. The article states "the key patents covering the original Roundup Ready Soybeans will expire in 2014 and Monsanto will have no future control of those lines." I am curious what implications arise for control and use of this biotech trait, and biotech traits in general, when the patent expires? 3. "When Cornell University developed virus resistant papayas that could save the Hawaiian industry, Monsanto gave them rights to certain necessary patents for free. Similarly, many companies have waived their patent rights for technologies involved in “Golden Rice.” Can you list and describe the patents that are referred to?
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A:Expert Answer

Good questions, I’ll address each of them individually.

 

1a. Can you explain what license terms might be typical for allowing other seed companies to utilize a patented biotech trait?

 

Typically the license agreement includes a royalty (e.g. a certain fee assessed per bag of seed sold) and an agreement by the other seed company to have their customers follow the same rules as those of the patent-holding company.  Those might include restrictions on the saving of seeds and/or stewardship rules to help prevent selection of resistant pests. 

 

1b. Also, if my understanding is correct, the licensee does not just sell a Monsanto variety, they incorporate the biotech trait into their own varieties. Is this correct and how is this done?

 

That is correct, seed companies sell their own varieties or hybrids which are developed using conventional breeding techniques.  The licensed trait has to be “introgressed” into each company’s varieties and that is done using the same conventional breeding techniques used for any other trait.  The same is true for Monsanto or any other trait developer. Once they have identified a useful modified line, conventional methods need to be used to get it into the full range of their own seed products.

 

 2. The article states "the key patents covering the original Roundup Ready Soybeans will expire in 2014 and Monsanto will have no future control of those lines."  I am curious what implications arise for control and use of this biotech trait, and biotech traits in general, when the patent expires?

 

Even after patents expire, these crops are still subject to any continuing regulatory oversight both in the country where they are grown and in export markets.  The industry has worked out ways to make that transition occur smoothly and to continue to provide continued support as needed.  This is analogous to what happens when crop protection chemicals or pharmaceuticals go off-patent and become “generic.”

 

3. "When Cornell University developed virus resistant papayas that could save the Hawaiian industry, Monsanto gave them rights to certain necessary patents for free. Similarly, many companies have waived their patent rights for technologies involved in “Golden Rice.” Can you list and describe the patents that are referred to?

 

For golden rice it has been stated that about 45 patents and 6 material transfer agreements alone are associated with the vitamin A enriched Golden Rice. These patents are owned by approximately 30 companies and public institutions. – see ISAAA report - http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/20/default.html

and summary from the Golden Rice project itself: http://www.goldenrice.org/Content1-Who/who4_IP.php

Regarding VR papaya there are some good resources including: 

 

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