What is a patent?
A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. When a patent is filed, it is a legal means to establish ownership of the invention. Filing for a patent does not in itself limit access, it provides a legal framework for providing options on whether or how the invention may be commercialized.
What is a license?
A license is an official permit to do, use, or own something. A license may be granted by a party ("licensor") to another party ("licensee") as an element of an agreement between those parties. In the case of IRRI, patents – such as variety patents - can be licensed for use by private or public companies within certain parameters established under the CGIAR Intellectual Assets policy. Only the legal owner of the patent may license a variety and determine the terms of its use.
Why does IRRI file patents on genes?
Where appropriate, IRRI draws on intellectual assets to give private companies an incentive to enter into evaluation and license agreements with IRRI. Engaging the private sector in this way opens important opportunities; it provides access to channels to market typically used by the private sector; and expertise and resources to increase the speed and efficiency of developing and introducing high-value rice varieties, through both the private and public sectors.
Filing trait-based patents create a comprehensive foundation for IRRI to enter into licensing agreements for the intellectual property associated with the trait, for research and commercial purposes. If IRRI were to commercialize the trait in the future (once its commercial viability is determined) any license supporting such arrangements would be consistent with the CGIAR Intellectual Assets Policy which seeks to maximize global accessibility and impact. Indeed, by proactively patenting traits, IRRI is able to more effectively manage dissemination and promote a more inclusive use of genetic resources while remaining cognizant of the monetary benefit sharing requirements of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (“Treaty”).
At what stage in the product development process does IRRI patent traits?
Under patent law, an invention must be novel, inventive and useful. IRRI may decide to file for patent protection if a novel trait meets these criteria. Further research and development will typically be required to validate the value of the trait and deliver it through appropriate varieties. This process can be accelerated by entering into appropriate evaluation and licensing agreements with private sector entities. Such arrangements are only entered into when they meet the requirements of the CGIAR intellectual assets policy.
Is information about a patent filing publicly available?
Yes, it is. Within the standard patent filing process, Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) patents are automatically published 6 months after filing. IRRI follows the standard process for filing for patents. Furthermore, it also engages with key stakeholders through regular touch points. This includes providing the CGIAR with notice of its patent filings in the Intellectual Asset report submitted to CGIAR.
Does IRRI generate revenue from patents?
In the event that revenue is generated from a patent, a revenue sharing formula will be agreed that takes into account the interests of the technology developers. When the benefit sharing provisions of the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (“Treaty”) are triggered, this will require payment into the Benefit Sharing Fund established under the Treaty Benefit Sharing Fund.
Any revenues received by IRRI will be reinvested in research for development in support of our mission.
Do IRRI patents restrict smallholder farmers from accessing high-value varieties?
No, they will not. In fact, smallholder farmers will have clearer access to these traits through the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture under the Standard Material Transfer Agreement of the Treaty (SMTA). The Treaty and related SMTA ensures that (1) genetic progress is kept accessible for all (including small farmers) and (2) revenues generated from the exploitation of genetic resources are considered within the framework of the Benefit Sharing provisions of the ITPGRFA.
Do farmers have to pay for patented varieties?
Farmers will not have to pay for traits developed by IRRI and delivered to farmers through the public sector. Where farmers purchase varieties from the private sector, a proportion of the purchase price may be returned to the owners of the germplasm and any intellectual property associated with the development of the variety. Where those traits are licensed by IRRI, the terms of any license will be within the scope of the CGIAR Intellectual Assets policy.
Does a patent restrict access to other landraces in the same region?
Landraces are crops that are genetically diverse, locally adapted and associated with traditional farming systems. IRRI’s patents do not limit access to any landrace. Rather they provide a basis for negotiation with the private sector over access and use terms of traits in advanced breeding materials.
If a patent is filed based on a landrace, will smallholder farmers be restricted from accessing landraces and other varieties containing the native trait because of these patents?
No, they will not be restricted. The patents themselves do not in any way restrict others from accessing or using the material from which these traits are derived or other germplasm containing comparable native traits as available under the multilateral system of the Treaty.
Will patented assets still be freely available for public research organizations?
Yes. As part of its long-term licensing strategy, IRRI will grant access to these traits based on the intended commercial purpose and nature of the organization. For public research organizations, including our NARES partners, the traits will be fully available for their use free of cost.
If CGIAR functions based on an “open access” policy, does IRRI violate the CGIAR policy on intellectual property when it files patents on genes?
No. The CGIAR Intellectual Assets Policy permits Centers to apply for patents and/or plant variety protection if they can be shown to be “necessary for the further improvement of such Intellectual Assets or to enhance the scale or scope of impact on target beneficiaries, in furtherance of the CGIAR Vision”. IRRI follows the procedures for reporting its patent filings and registrations.