"One of the questions I like to pose to my students is the patenting question. And what I try to get them to think about is this idea – that the reason there's patenting is not for the benefit of the company but for the benefit of us as consumers. The patents are there for us. That seems to catch them off guard. But the reason there are patents is so that a company feels like they can pursue a new idea and create a product from it and that's where we would benefit. So, we see products, as a result of patents, that we wouldn't see if companies didn't feel like they could protect their interests. They would be probably more conservative in developing new products because if they invested in something new and somebody who didn't invest could then capitalize on that they wouldn't see any profit from it. And so, really I think, patenting is what drives this country's innovation and new products. And we all benefit from that. The key is to have patenting that happens so that it doesn't suppress creative work because a certain patent blockades everybody's new ideas. So, patents have to be crafted in such a way that they're specific enough so that they don't suppress other creative avenues that could bring us new products…
     "So, corn breeding companies will do their discovery of the parent lines that don't have these patentable genes. And then once they discover the lines that make better, new hybrids, then they'll cross those genes into them. And the reason why is because that the whole hybrid could be held hostage just because there's patent protection on a single gene that's present in that hybrid. So, it has had an influence on the way plant breeding gets done.
     "I think it also has had a, it definitely has had an influence on corn breeding. It used to be that public corn breeders made a contribution. They would develop new populations or new families or new lines that could then be used freely by the commercial sector. That doesn't happen anymore. The commercial sector has ramped up their participation in plant breeding, and they don't share to the same extent. They use patents to protect genes, but they also can protect the parent varieties because they can identify genetic factors that make them unique."
     [Question:] "Is that positive or negative?"
     "I think that in the short term, it's probably positive. In the long term I think we're going to see some consequences in that. I think balance is the key. I think if you have the public sector actively involved in some things, that – number one, we'll bring more new people into the plant breeding enterprise. If you don't have active and valid plant breeding that's taking place at a place like the University of Nebraska it's difficult to bring students into those programs. So, somehow, we're going to have to create either different partnerships with industry than we currently have in order for us to both to play a role in keeping plant breeding viable and active."

Don Lee – Patenting Genes


Excerpts from Don Lee’s Interview:

The Bust of the 80s
Government Subsidies
An End to Subsidies?
The Internet for Ag
Immigration in Rural Am.
History of Hybrids
Preserving Genetics
Climate Change
Politics of Ethanol
Alternatives to Corn
Genetic Engineering
Bt & Roundup Ready
RR & Conservation