TraitAbility and the Treaty

by Luigi Guarino on January 19, 2013

I don’t know enough about either vegetable breeding or intellectual property protection to venture a guess as to the significance to that industry of Syngenta’s new online effort to streamline the licensing of some of their varieties and associated enabling technologies, which they’re calling TraitAbility. I’m not even sure what success would look like, either for Syngenta or anybody else. Alexander Tokarz, Syngenta’s Head of Vegetables1 suggested at last week’s event accompanying the launch of the TraitAbility portal that he might well be happier if other companies were to follow suit with similar opening-up initiatives in the next couple of years than if he were to be inundated with e-licenses from day one. Full disclosure: I know that because I was there, at Syngenta’s invitation:

No word yet from either those other companies, potential licensees, or indeed growers. But nevermind all that. I still think TraitAbility may turn out to be quite important, for two related reasons. First, because it’s a clear parallel to the International Treaty, at least in the sense that — in albeit a smaller, more halting way, and at the other end of the variety development pipeline — it is ostensibly trying to make access to genetic diversity and technologies simpler and more transparent. Which suggests the intriguing possibility that the ITPGRFA, if it didn’t actually force anyone’s hand, at least in some way paved the way, or helped create the space, for what Syngenta at any rate is heralding as something of an innovation. And second, because, whether or not there was in fact such a causal link with the ITPGRFA, the parallel which is indubitably there might suggest to Syngenta that some of that license money should maybe flow back into conservation. Innovation is needed all along that pipeline to make it sustainable, not just at the business end.

LATER:

Footnotes:
  1. Not just Head of Lettuce, he is the first to point out. []

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Payne January 20, 2013 at 5:16 am

The hyperlinks don’t seem to function

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Luigi Guarino January 21, 2013 at 8:08 am

They seem fine, Tom. Please try again.

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Tom Payne January 20, 2013 at 5:22 am

A triumph for non-Annex 1 PGRFA!

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Jeremy Cherfas January 21, 2013 at 10:24 am

Guess who said this: “Abandoning IP to foster access to innovation is potentially a very short-sighted solution,” he said. “It is like killing the goose which lays the golden eggs,” with today’s innovations becoming accessible but jeopardising the incentive for future ones.”

From a somewhat different write-up of TraitAbility.

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Matthew January 22, 2013 at 11:33 pm

“[we need] vegetables that transport better, keep longer on the shelves, taste better, have different colours, different flavours, different textures than what we used to have 20 years ago,” he said. “We want our food to be more nutritional, more healthy and more readily available at low prices,” and all of this needs innovation, he said.

—so are we to believe that the plant breeding “innovators” that worsened taste, narrowed commercially acceptable color and flavor and form, and decreased nutritional values over the last few decades are now going to fix all that by improving access to IP that they have consolidated into their databases?

Those silly local farmers using and saving regional seed varieties with should stop drinking the Slow Food Kool Aid and trust that Syngenta and Seminis will dial in the perfect ruqutu pepper. And besides, anyone who cares about such things is ignoring The Hunger Issue. Because really, that’s what this e-licensing agreement is about, hunger….(for higher licensing revenues). That’s simple and transparent.

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Hope Shand January 23, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Hmmm. Seems like seed industry is all about access these days. On a related note…I’m curious why Syngenta has not joined the private sector accord: Generic Event Marketability and Access Agreement (GEMAA) and (forthcoming) Data Use & Compensation Agreement (DUCA) that deal with managing post-patent trait access. http://www.bio.org/media/press-release/accord-generic-event-marketability-and-access-agreement-open-signature
So far it’s been signed by 5 of the big 6 seed companies and Syngenta is conspicuously absent. http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v31/n1/full/nbt0113-10c.html
There’s plenty of industry material explaining the accords, but if anyone can share alternative analysis (including viewpoint of smaller seed company), I’d very much like to know about it.

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