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Abstract

A biotechnology revolution is proceeding in tandem with international proliferation of intellectual property regimes and rights. Does the intellectual property impede agricultural research conducted in, or of consequence for, developing countries? This question has important spatial dimensions that link the location of production, the pattern of international trade, and the jurisdiction of intellectual property. Our main conclusion is that the current concerns about the freedom to operate in agricultural research oriented towards food crops for the developing world are exaggerated. Rights to intellectual property are confined to the jurisdictions where they are granted, and, presently, many of the intellectual property (IP) rights for biotechnologies potentially useful to developing-country agricultural producers are valid only in developed countries. IP problems might arise in technologies destined for crops grown in developing countries unencumbered by IP restrictions, if those crops are subsequently exported to countries in which IP is likely to prevail. Thus freedom to trade is also part of the IP story. However, using international production and trade data in the 15 crops critical to food security throughout the developing world, we show that exports from developing to developed countries are generally dwarfed by production and consumption in the developing world, the value of these exports is concentrated in a few crops and a few exporting countries, and the bulk of these exports go to Western Europe. Thus for now, most LDS researchers can focus primarily on domestic IPR in determining their freedom to operate with respect to food staples. Undue concern with current freedom to operate is diverting attention from the lack of financial and technical support necessary for the effective generation, evaluation, adaption, and regulation of newly available technologies by public and international nonprofit breeders in LDSs, given the continued inability of private-sector research to fill the gap.

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