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Gene Patents and the Genetic Resource recognition Fund: Sharing Benefits from Use of Plant Genetic Resources by Agro-biotechnological Inventions and Traditional Agricultural Practices

By Anil K. Gupta


The subject of this case study is the role of intellectual property rights in the benefit-sharing arrangements surrounding the gene Xa21 of Oryza longistaminata, a wild rice from Mali, which was isolated, cloned and patented at the University of California at Davis. A specimen of Oryza longistaminata was originally accessed in Mali and transferred to a rice research program in India, where its resistance to bacterial rice blight, one of the most serious rice diseases, was identified. The blight resistant specimen was transferred to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, which determined that the resistance was coded by a single locus called Xa21 and bred the resistance into cultivated rice varieties by conventional breeding methods. One such variety was then acquired by the University of California at Davis, where gene Xa21 was mapped, sequenced and cloned. After a patent application was filed and granted for the cloned gene, a Genetic Resource Recognition Fund (GRRF) was established at UC Davis to share with the stakeholders in Mali and other developing countries the benefits arising from the commercial utilization of the patented gene. This intellectual property-based benefit-sharing mechanism provides that the licensee of the patent over Xa21 shall annually pay a certain percentage of sales of products and derivatives of Xa21 into the GRRF for a specified number of years following the first year of commercialization. The Fund shall be used to provide fellowships to agriculture students and researchers from Mali, the Philippines and other countries where the wild rice is found, so as to build capacity in the donor country. At the time of conclusion of this study, however, no funds had yet been received by the GRRF. There are presently no plans at UC Davis to mainstream this model for accessing biodiversity and sharing benefits with gene donor countries. Within the overall policy of UC Davis and its own claims on such benefits, it remains at the discretion of individual researchers to decide how he or she wants to share the benefits and with whom. Patent US5859339, which forms the subject of this case study, is attached as Annex 3.2.1 of this case study. This is a part of WIPO sponsored study on the role of intellectual property rights in the sharing of benefits arising from the use of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge.

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