What is “the patent maze” and what does it have to do with crop improvement?

The patent system and plant variety rights are supposed to create an incentive for invention by rewarding inventors and plant breeders with a temporary monopoly on new inventions and new cultivars of plants.

In practice, however, there is an unfortunate side effect because modern crop improvements combine a number of technologies, which may be subject to patent applications in various countries by different companies. Thus, a farmer or some other creative person wanting to go ahead with implementation of a crop improvement may have to navigate a complex maze, or thicket, of competing rights.

These rights can be a critical bottleneck because wherever any patents or other intellectual property rights are in force, the company that owns those rights can require license payments or stop others from reproducing, selling or even importing products that use the patented technology.

If licenses are very costly or unavailable for even one of the multiple rights needed to practice a crop improvement, the whole effort can be effectively halted. Barriers can even be created by uncertainty about which licenses will be needed or available, discouraging investment.

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