Following up on the commitment to expand its capacities and knowledge in the field of biotech, on April 26, CIOPORA gathered more than 120 representatives of biotech research, commercial breeding and governments for a biotechnology-themed conference at ILVO Plant, Melle, Belgium. While biotech experts from the leading European research institutions delivered reports on the swiftly progressing technologies, legal specialists questioned whether contemporary IP systems could keep up with the biotech advancements by providing innovators with adequate incentives. The event served as a stage for defining the status quo both in biotech research and the surrounding regulatory matters, equally channelling the voices of science, policymakers and the industry in the search for viable solutions for the future. To provide a short recap of the event, two speakers share their thoughts on the conference’s main topics.
Biotech: Scientist Talk
FCI: Dr. de Riek, you are the driving force behind the CIOPORA Conference on Biotechnology 2018. For you, what are the biotech trends to watch in the plant world right now?
Dr. Jan de Riek, ILVO Plant, Melle, Belgium:
The trends that emerged during the CIOPORA Conference on Biotechnology were centred around two items: the ever-expanding capacity in DNA sequencing and New Breeding Techniques.
We are observing DNA sequencing technology moving forward to the third generation and bringing high throughput and long-read sequencing within the reach of modern science. In the meantime, the sequencers have evolved from bulky machines to compact flow cells, often only the size of a flash drive. Although a handheld clip on a DNA analyser is not immediately in sight, one can start dreaming of it.
The gene editing, especially the robust CRISPR/Cas9 technology, opens the door to a directed mutagenesis, where specific mutations can be achieved by means of altering the genetic information. It appears to be a much cleaner approach than the conventional mutation breeding as only a few side-mutations should be expected in its process, which can considerably reduce the backcrossing work.
The vision for the future is that technology will be applied to knock out certain undesirable plant traits, such as the browning of apples (e.g. Arctic apples). Although very promising, some classic problems still need to be tackled to achieve precise results. To knock out a gene, it is crucial to know the specific target genes in the species concerned. Other obstacles include the availability of appropriate tissue culture techniques such as the regeneration capacity of plant protoplasts.
About: Dr Jan de Riek is the chairman of the CIOPORA Working Group Biotechnology. At ILVO, he focuses on molecular genetics and breeding research in ornamental and agricultural crops. He acquired his doctorate degree in plant biotechnology from the University of Ghent.
Biotech: Lawyer talk
FCI: Dr. Kock, in your speech at the CIOPORA Conference you mentioned that by avoiding collusion between PBR and Patents at any cost, the policy makers are crippling both systems. In your opinion, what solutions are needed to provide for equally effective protection for both new breeding techniques and the entire genomes?
Dr. Michael Kock, dr. kock consulting, Basel, Switzerland:
Today, legislators are employing two approaches to tackle the interface issues between Patents and Plant Breeders Rights: limitations to the protectable subject matter and exceptions to IP rights. This leads to solutions like the new Rule 28 (2) EPC, where the patentability of a plant is based not on its features, i.e. novelty and inventiveness, but on how it was made. This not only deviates from patent law principles but creates legal uncertainty as, in most cases, it is not possible to tell how a plant was made.
On the level of the rights, we also see a distortion to the detriment of the IPR holder, either by means of breeders’ exemption in patent laws or the currently discussed narrow definition for essentially derived varieties (EDV), which would render varieties with innovative new characteristics as non-EDV. While these limitations may be well-intended and are, at first glance, aimed at protecting future innovation, they also diminish the incentive for innovation and, therefore, are short-sighted and somewhat naïve solutions.
Instead of eroding or abandoning IP rights, efforts should be directed at turning the tide in the current IP systems from exclusivity towards inclusivity, i.e. from “exclusivity & value capture” to “access & benefit sharing”. Legislative changes should support such industry initiatives as the transparency database PINTO or the International Licensing Platform for Vegetables (ILP) with clarification of the compulsory licensing provisions, etc. This could lead to solutions which promote innovation instead of denying incentives to its pioneers.
About: Dr. Michael A. Kock is a founder of dr. kock consulting providing consulting services on Intellectual Property (IP) protection and related strategies. From 2007 to 2017, Dr. Kock headed the IP Department at Syngenta Crop Protection AG in Basel. He has a diploma in Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology. He is a certified European and Swiss Patent Attorney. Dr. Kock regularly lectures on IP and has published multiple papers on IP issues in plants in peer-reviewed law journals.
Photo credit: Koen Van de Moortel/defottograf.be