The “Information management and services” component of SeeD includes the development of a Proactive Intellectual Property Strategy (PIPS) to align the ethics of the project with a set of core values and principles:
- Inclusively engage stakeholders in an equitable manner. Broadly and equitably share bio-assets (data, knowledge, germplasm, tools, etc.) with stakeholders involved in maize and wheat improvement, while acknowledging ownership and authorship of those who generated them. Attempt ‘to level the playing field’ amongst users to maximize the impact of SeeD on food security in Mexico and on a global scale.
- Accelerate innovation cycles and cultivar delivery. Discourage intellectual-property (IP) claims over bio-assets developed by SeeD to make them available in a pre-competitive, unencumbered setting that guarantees ‘freedom to breed’. At the same time incentivize downstream innovation by agreeing to the development of downstream products (cultivars) that utilize and further develop SeeD outputs and are deployed or commercialized using a variety of business models and marketing tools, including IP protection.
- Share benefits with original germplasm providers. Establish channels through which benefits arising from a more widespread use of genetic resources for crop improvement can be effectively shared with Mexican subsistence farmers whose livelihoods, to this date, continue to depend on maize landraces.
Ideas, potential elements and principles related to the sharing of data and germplasm, and the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, were identified and discussed in two meetings with stakeholders from genebanks, Mexico’s National Service for Seed Inspection and Certification (SNICS), the National System for Plant Genetic Resources (SINAREFI) network for maize, the Master Project for Mexican Maize (PMMM), the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), as well as public and private breeding programs. They will be further refined to implement PIPS in the SeeD project in the course of 2013.
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Sharing data and knowledge
Rather than passively ‘depositing’ bio-assets (data, knowledge, germplasm) and tools (software) produced by SeeD into the public domain, we will deploy access and data-sharing strategies that proactively encourage innovation, such as:
- Ample diffusion of SeeD bio-assets and tools through publications in peer-reviewed journals and journals targeting the general public to raise awareness about the goals of the project, the science behind it, and its data-release practices and policies.
- Foster the formation of an equitable, pre-competitive domain in which bio-assets and tools required for crop improvement can be shared and maintained unencumbered by Intellectual Property (IP) claims that may limit their use by others; for example, through a ‘one-click license’ before accessing SeeD data and knowledge, which:
- Includes a provision to not seek IP or any other rights over SeeD products,
- An agreement to contribute to the formation of a precompetitive domain for native traits, and
- Provisions to ‘level the playing field’ amongst web-portal users with varying capacities to mine and utilize SeeD data.
- Implement measures to prevent the misappropriation of knowledge. For example by:
- Proactively sharing SeeD data and knowledge outputs with key patent offices to reduce the risk that SeeD discoveries and knowledge are overlooked when identifying prior art during patentability searches for patent applications; or
- Encouraging SeeD participants to act as guardians of the common pool of data that they have contributed to, in order to identify and report possible cases of misuse.
- Encourage downstream innovation by agreeing to the development of downstream products (cultivars) using bio-assets drawn from a precompetitive domain. Downstream products may be commercialized using different business models and marketing strategies that may include IP protection.
- Maize and wheat germplasm held in trust at CIMMYT will be shared under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), using the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA).
- Maize germplasm conserved by Mexican genebanks is exchanged and accessible according to applicable Mexican laws.
Formal benefit-sharing schemes
- The Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) includes provisions to contribute royalties earned by selling cultivars, to a Benefit-Sharing Fund. This Fund helps farmers in developing countries conserve crop diversity in situ and assists farmers and breeders globally to adapt crops to changing needs and demands.
- Mexican laws and regulations provide guidance on the types of benefits that could be shared from commercializing products developed from genetic resources, which must be shared in an equitable and just manner.
Additional benefit-sharing channels through SeeD/MasAgro
- SeeD is part of the MasAgro initiative, which also includes breeding and agronomy components. Benefits arising from the use of genetic resources in one MasAgro component (SeeD), therefore, are directly fed back to farmers through other MasAgro components focusing on extension work and the development of new maize cultivars for rain-fed areas (adapted hybrids and improved landraces).
- The genetic-analysis service (SAGA), established under SeeD, will analyze for free DNA samples for landrace-improvement projects funded by the MasAgro component working on higher yielding, drought tolerant maize cultivars for rain-fed zones (International Maize Improvement Consortium: IMIC).
- SeeD will contribute to the strengthening of demand-driven and impact-oriented agricultural research in Mexico through (a) SAGA providing genetic-analysis services to support the implementation of molecular-breeding approaches, (b) software tools built to address breeders’ requirements, and (c) a contribution towards the establishment of a national postgraduate program focusing on the characterization and use of genetic resources for crop improvement. These measures, in time, will contribute to a broadening of options available to Mexican subsistence farmers.