APATENT lock on genes, technol-

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					the same time, another portion of the Russian         to say, ‘‘Look far and aim high!’’.                 Germans have done theirs.
elite who lack similar personal connections              Neither will or leadership seems terribly        Lilia Shevtsova, senior associate, Carnegie
with the West may be prepared — may even              likely at present. In any case, the elite is        Endowment for International Peace, is on
long for — a conflict.                                unlikely to dispel the illusion as long as the      the discussion panel at the Australian
   Russian society supports Putin, but about          price of oil remains high and as long it can        Leadership Retreat.

  Freely sharing innovation is the
  only way to face the future
               PATENT lock on genes, technol-                                                             private sector innovators who seek to create
              ogies and discoveries is creating a         RICHARD                                         real products to improve lives and our
              log jam in health, agriculture,                                                             environment.
              environment and energy innova-              JEFFERSON                                          In much of the developing world the new
  tions worldwide. Transparency of interna-                                                               patent systems are completely unsearchable
  tional patent systems, and fostering ‘‘open                                                             and opaque. In Indonesia there is no full-text
  source’’ development and sharing of the                                                                 searching of patents available. How will the
  toolkits of science are the answer, and will be      small and medium enterprise, are neglected.        Indonesian Government even know if multi-
  key to Australia’s role in Asia.                     And those for poor countries don’t even get        nationals are filing patents on drugs or
     Science-based innovations such as vac-            on the radar screen.                               vaccines in their own country?
  cines, diagnostics and drugs, or new crop               Patents give a limited monopoly right to           In India it’s virtually impossible to search
  breeds and environmental management tools,           inventors in exchange for full disclosure of the   patents, and yet Indian industry has been the
  all have enormous potential to improve the           invention so society can build on those            lynchpin in providing low cost anti-retroviral
  lives of billions of people and to rescue our        inventions. It is not, however, a monopoly to      drugs to treat HIV/AIDS in poor countries.
  fragile environment. They have the potential         practise the invention, nor to benefit from it.       Can this continue? In the absence of
  to forestall deadly pandemics and treat              It is an exclusive right to stop others from       transparency, many fear not.
  neglected populations.                               practising the invention. A dog in the manger.        But it’s not just poor countries stuffing up
     Our neighbours, including Indonesia,                 These rights and claimed rights are obscure     balance between disclosure and monopoly.
  China, Vietnam and India, have critical needs        in their meaning, their scope, and their              Until the release last month by CAMBIA’s
  in these fields if they are to halt the downward     ownership. They are daunting even to               Patent Lens team (www.patentlens.net), the
  spiral of their environments, to prevent             specialists; and such specialists are outra-       full text of Australian patents could not be
  catastrophic public health crises and to build       geously expensive. More importantly, if the        searched domestically or internationally.
  prosperous economies and societies.                  patents can’t be searched, understood and             How, then, could either Australian or
     Our future is linked to theirs. Enabling their    navigated they can’t be avoided. It would be       overseas innovators wishing to serve Austra-
  success ensures ours.                                like clearing a minefield by closing one’s eyes    lia have any confidence in their potential
     Creating and delivering these innovations         and tip-toeing.                                    freedom to operate? How could investors in
  requires access to dozens or even hundreds of           Recently the Government of Indonesia            Australian research have any clarity in the
  discoveries and technologies, including genes        took the unprecedented move of withholding         ability to deliver outcomes?
  and proteins — the fabric of life itself.            its local virus isolates of the deadly H5N1           We can and must do much better than this.
     But the life sciences research tools and          avian influenza from the global health             We need to map and navigate this confusing
  platforms traditionally in the public domain         community. This sharing is critical if the         terrain of patents, to make clear the options.
  are now encumbered by outrageously broad             world is to be prepared for a potential flu           We need to work with our neighbours to
  patent rights held by myriad players in              pandemic with diagnostics, vaccines and            create transparent, harmonised and search-
  obscure ways.                                        therapeutics. These are not just local impacts,    able patent systems that can be explored and
     These patents — once only filed in a few          they will hit us all.                              if abused, fixed.
  wealthy nations — are now being sought                  But the Indonesian Government was                  We need to explore new ways of developing
  wholesale in all the developing nations of           deeply, and understandably, concerned that         technology and using intellectual property as
  Asia, and often by multinational corporations.       the virus strains and medicines developed          the software sector has done in the form of
     Nearly a third of the human genome is             from them would be patented by global              ‘‘Open Source’’. If we do, we can galvanise
  already patented — over 10,000 genes, and            corporations in the West and not be shared         international life sciences and stimulate
  almost all of the rest has patent claims             equitably with Indonesia, or other poor            confident investment and powerful low-cost
  pending, some piled 20 deep by thousands of          countries hardest hit but which are the            toolkits of innovation.
  claimants. It’s even worse for plant genes,          providers of the raw materials.                       Australia is taking the world lead through
  with some patent applications from Monsanto             Are they right?                                 CAMBIA’s Patent Lens and the Biological
  claiming over 460,000 genes — more than 10              There is a long history of shameful denial of   Open Source (BiOS) Initiative (www.bios.net)
  times the number in any plant species!               access to poor countries, and now with the         to explore how practices that gave rise to
     Indeed, biotech promoters will point to           TRIPS agreement (Trade-Related Aspects of          Linux and Firefox could drive the health,
  some profits coming from the licensing and           Intellectual Property Rights), the developing      agriculture and environment sectors to new
  sale of the components of this innovation            world is putting in place patent systems that      levels of prosperity and innovation.
  pipeline. But we can also see the inefficiency       are being gamed by outside players. One has           We must take it much further. We must
  in getting real innovations of value to the          only to read the writings of the great             help our neighbours achieve similar efficien-
  public through the market, with escalation of        Australian IP thinker professor Peter Drahos       cies and transparency in their innovation
  costs of assembling the whole toolkit, and the       to see the extent of the inequities. No wonder     systems. And in so doing we will create a
  increasing uncertainty for investors.                that Indonesia and other countries are             valued, trusted and unique role for Australia
     The result?                                       spitting the dummy.
                                                                                                          in the region.
     Domination of our food and health indus-             These practices are absurd.
  tries by large multinationals that, for all their       We require a rethink of patent policy, of the   Richard Jefferson, a molecular biologist
  resources, can only target high-margin prod-         norms of patent use, and in how the public         and chief executive of CAMBIA, is a
  ucts and big markets. Innovations that are           sector can pick up the ball and restore sanity,    panelist at the Australian Leadership
  needed at smaller scale, with engagement of          efficiency and confidence for both public and      Retreat.

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