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European Public Research Organisations (PROs) currently hold 25% of European agriculture's biotechnology intellectual property (IP). They produce a broad spectrum of generic results, which should be the basis for further technological development. This represents a huge innovation potential for the European industry, as well as opening up new opportunities for cooperation with developing countries. However, fragmentation of ownership and heterogeneous licensing policies limit the efficiency of this process. Therefore, there is an urgent need for greater cooperation between European PROs with regard to harmonising intellectual property and technology transfer strategies. This is where the EPIPAGRI project steps in, and demonstrates the feasibility for joint management of the intellectual property of European PROs.


The proliferation of patenting during the last two decades has resulted in the fragmented ownership of intellectual property rights (IPR). Consequently, exploiting an innovation depends on access rights to an overwhelming number of protected inventions. This situation generates conflict risk, costly arrangements and uncertainty over 'freedom to operate'. Difficulty in accessing comprehensive information on IP discourages 'small players' from taking part in biotechnology development, and consequently the transfer of technology from public research to the private sector is hampered. Even scientific research has become more and more caught up in the issue of access to IPR. Many biotechnology patents are currently held by PROs, but have been licensed for exclusive use by private sector companies.

In addition, enormous investments have been made by the major agrochemical companies to fulfil their need for holding complete technology sets in the sector of pest-resistant and herbicidetolerant crops. This has led to a situation where 4 companies own more than 60% of granted patents in agricultural biotechnology. This situation hinders the development of potential applications that may be beneficial to the public good but have a low market value. This is especially true with applications that may be of use to developing countries.

In this context, the strategy of the EPIPAGRI consortium consists of progressively raising interest in a European initiative for harmonised public IP policies, by implementing pragmatic actions and achieving results that bring concrete benefits to participants.

The project brings together PROs from different European countries, representing a range of IP policies and licensing practices that together hold a significant number of agricultural biotechnology patents. Participants will agree to share information concerning their published patents, in particular the ones that are licensed in a nonexclusive way, and to set up a common database.

Patent bundles are to be established, allowing individual PROs to make further technological offers for nonexclusive licensing. In addition, participants are examining their licensing practices and their choice between exclusive or nonexclusive licenses more closely. The aim is to design consensus instruments, including guidelines, research partnership agreements, IP and licensing policies and cross-licensing agreements between PROs.

Using the results of these activities as a basis, EPIPAGRI proposes to extend its collaboration to other European PROs and share its recommendations with European public and private networks. The aim is to disseminate good practice for public-private partnerships and to harmonise European PRO IP and licensing policies. While the best use of IP in the field of agricultural biotechnology remains a global issue for the 21st century, the Epipagri project demonstrates that it is feasible to face this challenge with transparency, efficiency, and fairness.

List of Partners

  • Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (France)
  • Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (Belgium)
  • France Innovation Scientifique et Transfert (France)
  • Fundação Luis de Molina (Portugal)
  • INRA Transfert (France)
  • Institut de Recerca I Tecnologia Agroalimentàries (Spain)
  • Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Ireland)
  • Plant Bioscience (UK)
  • S
  • zeged-Biopolisz Innovation Services, Biopolisz (Poland)
  • Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet (Sweden)
  • Garching Innovation (Germany)
Full title:
Towards European collective management of public intellectual property for agricultural biotechnologies
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Bernard Teyssendier de la Serve, Centre INRA de Montpellier
EC Scientific Officer:
Maurice Lex,
EU contribution:
€ 600,000
Specific Support Action

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top