[ASC-media] Media Release: Agricultural R&D Corporations in ³disarray and confusion²

Australasian Science science at control.com.au
Mon Jul 28 00:47:07 EST 2003

28 July 2003
For immediate release

Agricultural R&D Corporations in ³disarray and confusion²

Much of the funding in Australia¹s nine quasi-private R&D Corporations for
agriculture-related science ³has been squandered and the research products
are undeliverable², according to Dr Richard Jefferson. At least $250 million
from grower levies and taxpayers supports these RDCs for trying to cope with
an increasingly ³commercial ³ focus with many tens of millions in
biotechnology-related research.

Dr Jefferson is founding CEO of the non-profit Center for the Application of
Molecular Biology to International Agriculture (CAMBIA). Writing on ³Public
Good in an Absurdly Patented World² in the August issue of Australasian
Science, he says: ³The internationalisation of trade and the dramatic
increase in the importance of IP [intellectual property] have left these
institutions in disarray and confusion².

He attacks ³a trite and incorrect dogma² concerning ownership and control of
intellectual property that is ³stifling innovation². He says that genetic
technologies ³are now encumbered by hundreds of patents, mostly controlled
by a handful of large corporations, even though most of these techniques
were invented by publicly funded scientists². As an example he cites US
company Ceres, which is ³smugly claiming patents on 50,000 genes and 10,000

He says the dogma that ³ownership and control of IP is Œwhat it¹s all
about¹Š betrays a huge ignorance of how IP really works and what it¹s good
for ­ and not so good for . . . IP costs lots to develop, to prosecute and
to license. Control of IP gives no right to practise that IP. Its benefit as
a Œbargaining chip¹ is usually overvalued and rarely used to good effect.
Evidence from great research universities overseas indicates that even
exceptional IP portfolios barely pay for themselves and contribute less than
a few per cent to the true costs of running these institutions.

³The real goal must be to access and leverage all this innovation ­
Australian or otherwise ­ for Australian public good and to avoid the
catastrophic pitfalls of infringing rights held by others.² He commends a
report that has proposed a positive way forward for the RDCs.

³It¹s time to reconsider how we work with IP,² he writes. ³We must avoid
confirming the worst fears of a skeptical public: that our institutions have
become ineffective apologists for economic rationalism and not engines of
public good.²

Dr Jefferson makes his comments in conScience, the column in Australasian
Science in which scientists speak out on national issues.

Please cite AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE MAGAZINE as the source of these stories.

Dr Richard Jefferson: (02) 6242 4505 (BH) or (0419) 499 753 (AH).

For the full text and for permission to reproduce Dr Jefferson¹s entire
article (630 words), call the Editor, Guy Nolch, on (03) 9500 0015. A photo
of Dr Jefferson is available on request. 

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