Plant Science Post

What Do the Experts Say?

April 8, 2015
Investment & Innovation

What is intellectual property and why is it important to the world we live in? We asked IP guru Herb Wamsley, executive director of the Intellectual Property Owners’ Association, to explain.

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property, or IP, refers to inventions or creations of the mind. IP rights consist of a set of laws to legally protect those inventions or creative works. The main divisions of IP are patents, trademark, copyright and trade secrets.

Why is IP important?

IP rights enable inventors to bring their ideas to life and they give investors the confidence to provide money for the research to develop those ideas.

How does IP impact our everyday lives?

IP is behind all new and improved products we use. For example computers, phones and cars are all developed and improved thanks to IP protection. Not only do these innovations improve our standard of living, they also stimulate the economy.

Do all industries use IP?

Yes, every major industry involved in research needs IP protection – from agriculture to computers, pharmaceuticals to automobiles – to have the confidence to invest and bring new products to market. Without IP rights there would be a major slowdown in the pace of innovation which would have a major adverse effect on the economy.

Why is IP important to the plant science industry in particular?

IP rights and plant variety protection rights in particular, are important for the plant science industry given companies spend so much time and invest such large amounts of money on each innovation. It is important that these companies are able to recoup their investment otherwise the incentive to innovate will be lost and agricultural technology will not advance.

Why should living organisms be patentable?

The living organisms patented in the plant science sector are not the creation of nature – they are assisted in their development through human research – and we therefore believe they should be eligible for patent protection.

Is it just big companies that benefit from IP?

No. In our association we strive to maximize innovation for all companies irrespective of their size. Smaller companies are often more creative because they don’t have the capacity to manufacture or market their products, so they reply on IP rights to protect their innovations. Universities are reliant on IP protection for very similar reasons. As a result these innovators will often work with private companies to get a license of shared ownership to protect their idea and to bring a product to market. There are also huge benefits for consumers. As new products arrive on the market, rival companies spend time and money to research, emulate and ideally improve on that product. You can see this phenomenon very clearly in the computer and mobile phone sectors and this can also help to reduce prices. It is important that we educate the public to understand the benefits that come from maintaining strong patent rights.

Does IP prevent innovations reaching those most in need?

No, on the contrary, IP helps companies to create innovations – such as drugs or agricultural products – that can bring solutions to the developing world. For example IP protection has helped plant science companies to invest in creating biotech crops – often with the help of public bodies or universities – that to tackle specific problems in the developing world such as drought or insect damage. The problem is more over the distribution and affordability of those products in the developing world, but there is a lot of work being done through governments and private foundations to solve this problem.