Institutional responses on strengthened intellectual property rights in agriculture and needs' assessment on intellectual property management of public research institutions in Asian developing countries.

Author:Payumo, Jane
Position:Report - Company overview


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. Hence, it is important to understand how they have responded and adapted to this new environment while maintaining continuity of service to their stakeholders. This paper discusses IPRs as they relate specifically to biotechnology and genetically modified organisms being used as tools to achieve sustainable improvement of crop productivity. This study uses the definition of biotechnology as covering the application of tissue culture, immunological techniques, molecular genetics, and recombinant DNA techniques in all facets of agricultural production and agro-industry.

Focusing in five countries in developing Asia, this study aims to provide such information and add insights to the state-of-the-art in the IP challenges confronting public research institutions. Realizing that the development of innovative capabilities and institutional policies depends on a strong and sustained commitment from the authorities, this study targeted institutional heads and research administrators of public research organizations doing agricultural biotechnology in India, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The respondents were asked about their perceptions of the concept of IPRs and the implications of IPRs on public agricultural research, and the current capability and priority needs in handling IP issues. This research can serve as reference for international institutions interested in developing action plans and/or capacity programs on IP management. This may also enable a subsequent step towards an analytical framework to investigate institutional capacity for IP management in the public agricultural institutions in developing countries.


The focus of this research was on public agricultural research institutions in five countries in Asia: India, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The scope includes universities and research institutions conducting agricultural biotechnology in these five countries. This list of institutions was obtained from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)-Biotech (FAO-BioDec) database (FAO, 2005), which contains baseline information on state-of-the-art crop biotechnology products and techniques that are either in use or in the pipeline in developing countries. Names and contact information of the respondents were obtained from their respective institutional websites and were included in the circulation list. The project was reviewed and approved by Institutional Review Board at Washington State University (WSU-IRB # 10650 Activity #002).

A web-based survey format was constructed to determine current perceptions, status, and needs assessment of the different public research institutions on IPRs. This was chosen for several reasons. Samples included personnel working in Asia's public universities and research institutions with active and up-to-date websites. These institutions tend to have high-speed Internet access, minimizing difficulty in accessing a web-based survey. Web-based surveys also reduced time to completion, direct branching, and reduce overall survey costs if no significant programming is required (Schonlau, Fricker, & Elliott, 2002).

To ensure that these surveys were clear and concise, the questionnaire was pre-tested to improve the clarity of questions and instruction, and determine the understandability and validity of the contents. The pre-test group included members of the National Partners' Initiative (NPI) of the Central Advisory Service on Intellectual Property (CAS-IP). NPI is a community of IP practitioners based in developing and emerging economies working together to support partnerships in relation to IP and technology transfer management between the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centers and National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS). Comments received from this group were used to refine the survey instrument. None of the data collected in the pre-test were used in the final research analysis.

The online survey instrument and the resulting hosted web site was designed and managed by WSU-SESRC. Selected faculty and staff from WSU then tested the final web-based survey questionnaire and validated the survey process. The survey was designed in such a way that respondents could review and change their responses. Response to the survey was completely voluntary, and it was expected that some of the respondents would skip some of the questions. Undesirable access to survey pages was controlled through firewalls set up by the SESRC server. Randomly generated personal access codes assigned to respondents also controlled access to the survey. Respondents entered their unique access code at the survey homepage to gain access to the survey itself. Once a survey was completed, the used access code became invalid and further access to the survey using that code was denied. The SAS statistical package was used to analyze the survey data. Descriptive statistics such as mean, frequency, and percentage were primarily employed in the interpretation and comparison of data among groups. Decision rules were set for interpreting numeric data to draw final conclusions. For those items where one category received 40% or more with the other three categories receiving 25% or less of the responses, this occurrence was called "a clear majority." A response pattern was "without a clear majority" when all four categories received 25% or less of the responses.

The survey questionnaire consisted of 27 questions split into three sections. Section A, technology transfer capabilities, collected information on capabilities, including experiences of institutions with IP management and technology transfer. Section B, IP protection to agricultural biotechnology management, collected information on the attitudes of institutional heads and research managers on the features of IPRs and the implications to their...

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