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Intellectual property rights and the future of plant breeding in Canada

Date

2008-09-05

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Degree Level

Doctoral

Abstract

Canada has a long history of investing in agricultural research, with public funds playing a dominant role for most crops up until recently. With the advent of biotechnology in the 1980s, the research industry underwent significant transformations. Crops more amenable to the application of DNA modification techniques (e.g., canola) gained considerable attention by the private sector and experienced an influx of private R&D investment and proliferation of intellectual property rights (IPRs). IPRs have changed the nature of knowledge from being non-excludable to being excludable, thus affecting the nature of research benefits and research incentives. The advantages and disadvantages of a stronger IPR system in Canadian agriculture are currently hotly debated in policy circles. This thesis develops a theoretical model that describes the incentives for innovation and the distribution of benefits from research when such innovations are protected by Plant Breeders' Rights (PBRs) versus patents. Specifically, the research industry is modeled as a monopolistic seed company undertaking research, developing a new variety and selling it to heterogeneous farmers. The difference between PBRs and patents is embodied in the farmers' decision that incorporates the possibility of seed saving envisioned by PBRs, but not by patents. The simulation results show that under certain conditions PBRs can be as effective as patents in encouraging R&D activity, and that the share of farmers in total benefits is generally smaller under patents than under PBRs. The benefits under patenting regime, however, are not necessarily smaller in absolute terms. This dissertation also develops a game theoretic model to study the impact of IPRs on the sharing of research inputs. The results reveal that when two private firms compete in a differentiated product market, they will have an incentive to protect their technologies and maintain exclusive rights. Therefore, sharing within private industry may be a challenge. As IPRs proliferate, however, a lack of incentive to share/cross-license may not be confined to private industry. IPRs may also impact the propensity of public researchers to protect or share their technologies. To address the issue of sharing and assess the efficiency of the current IP protection system in the Canadian plant breeding industry, interviews with wheat and canola breeders were conducted. The responses suggest that, in general, patents have become more prevalent in both industries over the last decade, which has, in turn, reduced germplasm and information flows and increased secrecy. There is also evidence that patents undermine R&D efforts in some potentially promising areas of research and make freedom to operate in the breeding industry a concern.

Description

Keywords

plant breeders' rights, innovation, tragedy of anticommons, IPRs

Citation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Agricultural Economics

Program

Agricultural Economics

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