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A group of leading public-sector plant science institutions in the United States has pledged to free up access to patented advances in biotechnology in an effort to accelerate research to improve both domestic and global crops

The 14 institutions behind the new initiative, called the Public-Sector Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA), have agreed to allow access to each other's current and future patented technologies.

The aim is to make it easier for universities to research and develop new crops when several institutions own different parts of the intellectual property rights on the individual organisms or processes being studied.

"In biotechnology, there are so many patents affecting the various processes involved in a new development that any one can block the commercialisation or use of that invention," says Steven Slack, associate vice president for agricultural administration at Ohio State University, a member of the new initiative.

"Involvement in PIPRA lets member institutions have access to multiple technologies that are patented by other institutions or otherwise protected."

Public-sector institutions have been leaders in developing improved crop varieties and

transferring technology to farms and the agricultural industry – accounting for roughly one quarter of patented inventions.

But their research efforts have been fragmented by intellectual property laws and a research-intensive private sector.

"As leaders of our institutions, [we] are now collectively asking whether institutions such as ours can do a better job in fulfilling our mission in support of agriculture in the United States and developing countries," write the heads of participating institutions in this week's journal Science.

In addition to reviewing public-sector patenting and licensing practices, the initiative aims to develop a public database that will provide an overview of intellectual property rights currently held by the public sector.

Link to article in Science

Reference: Science 301, 174 (2003)

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