Friday, April 25, 2014

Seeds Of Change At Cornell

On April 25, 2014, the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University held the 3rd Annual Plant Breeding Symposium, ("Breeding Innovations & Policy:  Considering Diverse Stakeholders") cosponsored by SYNAPSIS (the Cornell Plant Breeding & Genetics Graduate Student Assocation) and DuPont Pioneer.  I was honored to be invited to speak at the conference.  Here is the abstract of my speech, entitled "Biology, Law, and Democratization as Seeds of Change for Agricultural Innovation":
The past decade has witnessed sea changes in both the science and law of agricultural biotechnology.  Accelerating growth in the power and precision of molecular biology, genomics, and bioinformatics offer myriad new tools for improvements in crop characteristics and cultivation methods. More fundamentally, the new field of synthetic biology represents a paradigm shift in how and by whom agricultural biology is to done. The law has evolved in parallel with, and often in reaction to, these scientific changes. The United States Supreme Court has weakened or ended the patenteligibility of isolated genomic DNA, products of physiology, biochemical assay methods, and process inventions involving steps dependent on human thought. Improved methods for measuring patent importance promise to demystify the value and liability risks of agricultural patent portfolios. Most disruptively, open, user, and collaborative innovation is vastly increasing participation in biotechnology. The result of new biotechnologies, altered legal landscapes, and changing patterns of participation is the transformation and democratization of agricultural innovation.
The great unresolved tension between open access, traditional, indigenous, and intellectual property regimes for governing rights to plant breeds and seeds was the dominant theme.  The range of views represented in the speakers' presentations resulted in a wonderful discussion of plant breeding and agricultural biotechnology.  Though we may not have reached intellectual synthesis of the level imagined by Titania, who says, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, "So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle gently entwine," we did grapple with important issues in this vital field in the midst of the finest plant breeding and genetics scholars.