Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Discovery Process: Balancing Patent Protection vs. Basic Information

What independent research can be conducted on GM foods and crops?   If this editorial piece is telling the truth, then this is scary stuff.

"Multibillion-dollar agricultural corporations, including Monsanto and Syngenta, have restricted independent research on their genetically engineered crops. They have often refused to provide independent scientists with seeds, or they've set restrictive conditions that severely limit research options. This is legal. Under U.S. law, genetically engineered crops are patentable inventions. Companies have broad power over the use of any patented product, including who can study it and how. Agricultural companies defend their stonewalling by saying that unrestricted research could make them vulnerable to lawsuits if an experiment somehow leads to harm, or that it could give competitors unfair insight into their products. But it's likely that the companies fear something else too: An experiment could reveal that a genetically engineered product is hazardous or doesn't perform as well as promised."

We need a dynamic revelation mechanism that creates a credible set of "rules of the game" so that the agricultural companies know that they will be caught if they sell products that have serious unintended consequences but that also protects their intellectual property against reverse engineering.

Ideally, the government could sequester a Ph.D. jury pool who would work for for two years on investigating whether a given crop is "safe" and then would magically forget its findings rather than consult for a competing firm.

So, who can conduct the basic research to check if the product works as promised but then doesn't trade based on the information that is discovered during the research process?

If all GMO crops must be open source and in the public domain, then we reduce the risk of having a "Frankenfood" on the loose but these companies would have much less of an incentive to invest in the basic research.    A good economist should figure out how Boldrin and Levine  would address this issue.