Monday, September 08, 2008

The down side to academic patenting of food and agricultural technologies

Janet Rae-Dupree in the New York Times:
The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 started out with the best of intentions. By clearing away the thicket of conflicting rules and regulations at various federal agencies, it set out to encourage universities to patent and license results of federally financed research. For the first time, academicians were able to profit personally from the market transfer of their work. For the first time, academia could be powered as much by a profit motive as by the psychic reward of new discovery.

None of these are necessarily negative outcomes. But more than a quarter-century after President Jimmy Carter signed it into law, the Bayh-Dole Act, sponsored by the former Senators Birch Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, and Robert Dole, Republican of Kansas, is under increasing scrutiny by swelling ranks of critics. The primary concern is that its original intent — to infuse the American marketplace with the fruits of academic innovation — has also distorted the fundamental mission of universities.
The OCM blog adds:
In the same week we read of Monsanto making investments at Iowa State University and the University of Illinois. It's clear that an analysis of Bayh-Dole, aka "University Small Business Patent Procedures Act," needs to occur. And soon, before we further sell out America's longstanding history of reputable public research to the highest bidder. In the Monsanto/University of Illinois venture, the 8 doctorate students will work on Monsanto projects. Monsanto pays for their research fellowships, gets access to all the university infrastructure and facilities, and then gets to release the varieties under its patented control (or perhaps a joint patent with the school).

1 comment:

Janet said...

Another downside, it seems to me, is that the research topics inevitably veer to those which may result in a product to exploit commercially rather than topics that provide foundational knowledge or that, as one example, compare an "input intensive" method of farming with sustainable practices.