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Bio Technology : October 2009
52 Australasian BioTechnology Volume 19 • Number 3 • October 2009 AusBioTALK IP concerns raised over UN climate change policy The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is working to create a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol by December 2009, and will meet in Copenhagen to debate and ratify the text. Several issues of concern to the biotechnology industry have arisen during the course of negotiations, related to intel- lectual property and technology transfer. With the potential to drastically alter intellectual property protections and provisions globally, AusBiotech is working to bring the sector's concerns to the attention of the Australian Government, in prepa- ration for the meeting. The following are edited excerpts from a Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) policy paper, which articulates the details and issues. The UNFCCC is a legally non-binding Convention body, with its major goal to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere globally. To accomplish this goal, Parties to the UNFCCC have drafted, and are currently negotiating, an international treaty on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA). The Ad-Hoc Working Group on LCA held its sixth meeting in Bonn in June 2009 and produced a revised Negotiating Text. The UNFCCC negotiating text fails to recognise the full im- pact and promise of this industry and the legal environment that is required to nurture this industry. The text is replete with provisions that would weaken intellectual property rights, the very lynch-pin of the industry. The text specifi- cally calls for a prohibition on patents or for the compulsory licensing of patents on basic biotechnology inventions, including fields of technology that may relate to genetic or biological resources. Other proposed provisions of concern include eliminating certain environmental technologies from patentable subject matter; revoking existing patents on such technologies; mandating patent or technology 'pools' to provide for ac- cess to proprietary technology on a royalty-free or 'afford- able' basis; mandating compulsory licensing for particular 'green' fields of technology; expanding provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Prop- erty (TRIPS Agreement) for additional exceptions to and limitations on patent protection in 'special or exceptional' situations; and establishing a new international body or institutional arrangement under the UNFCCC to address technology-transfer related issues, including intellectual property issues. These provisions seemingly imply that the international intel- lectual property system poses a barrier to developing, de- ploying, and accessing new innovations. Nothing is further from the truth. It is precisely through these protections that green technologies, green jobs, and a greener and more environmentally sustainable earth will be created. The path from basic research to a usable biotechnology invention is capital intensive and risky. A typical biotech discovery can take years and vast sums of dollars to de- velop, which may be instrumental in increasing crop yield, or converting biomass to biofuel. Moreover, the research and development can create high-paying jobs, increase research capacity, and lead to future innovations. Researchers and entrepreneurs generate capital investment by leveraging their intellectual property. In research-intensive and risky technologies, the patent is the asset that helps the innovator to bring its initial discovery to fruition. Investors measure opportunities through potential sales of the product and the strength and predictability of patent protection. The treaty will represent a monumental paradigm shift in global environmental policy, with the potential to impact not only the environment, but also the global economy. If policies are structured wisely, addressing climate change can help spur global economic development. A transition to a low-carbon economy has the potential to drive the next generation of technological innovation, address the environmental and economic challenges that climate change presents, and contribute to global development objectives. Governments around the world are urged to support the de- ployment of these technologies, while maintaining and enforc- ing strong protections for intellectual property rights.