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 A 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.