Exclusive intellectual property rights as a means to fair food distribution
The right to adequate food is a universal human right that is realized when all people have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or the means for its procurement, without discrimination of any kind (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). Production, distribution and secured access to food is, however, more and more dependent on technical innovations. Agrotech and Foodtech are two catchwords implicating the use of high-tech tools to produce and distribute food. Such tools may be drones to help to optimize the growth of plants, computers to manage the harvest, to minimize spoiling of crude material, or to ensure the optimal distribution of food to prevent food wasting. Other such high-tech products may include genetically modified crops or animals to increase yields, improve resistance to diseases and tolerance to environmental challenges. Eventually, future technologies should ensure more food production on smaller areas, efficient and secure distribution and less food wasting.
Intellectual Property (IP) rights, such as patents, are legal rights allowing inventors and owners to benefit from their efforts exclusively for a limited time. These benefits have proven to be strong incentives for innovation and development and are considered pivotal for driving the economy. With exclusive rights and the income generated with their help, inventors and inventive companies will invest more time, effort and money in new inventions. In fact, IP is thought to be the foundation of any advanced economy and to foster all aspects of life, including production of food.
The number of inventions in Agro- and Food-tech is growing with an accelerated speed, because this growing market holds a huge potential for financial revenues, in particular if market exclusivity can be obtained with IP rights such as patents. Not only multinational companies but also start-ups are using more and more technologies to transform the dynamics of the food market.
- How should we ensure in the future, that adequate food is available for everybody on the planet?
- Does the current patent system sufficiently support the efforts for a fair access to food?
- Can you think of smart adjustments of the system for better meeting the objective?
- You may consider a scenario in which IP rights for food are abandoned entirely. But then, which alternative incentives can be implemented in order encourage new inventions in this area? Without any such incentives, the technological progress might be too slow to ensure the feeding of the almost 10 billion people on the planet in 2050.
Challenger | Dr. med. vet., Christian Moser, patent expert in life sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property
Besides his activity as professional patent researcher and examiner, Christian Moser is involved in IPI’s efforts to promote IP awareness at universities and in the private industry. Christian Moser is a trained veterinarian with a PhD in molecular virology. After his education at the University of Bern and a postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania, he spent more than a decade in the Swiss vaccine industry in various scientific and management roles.
Challenger | Prof. Dr. Heinz Müller, patent expert in life sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property
He is professor emeritus for medical biochemistry at the University of Basel. He was educated as a biochemist at the ETH Zurich. In 1985, he moved to the US to work at different research institutions in San Diego (UCSD, Scripps Research Institute) and Chicago (Northwestern University). He returned to Switzerland to work as a principal investigator in breast cancer research at the University of Basel. From this university, he received his Venia legendi and the title of a professor. In 2002, he started working at the patent department of the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property while remaining a regular lecturer in biochemistry at the medical faculty of the University of Basel. He also teaches intellectual property law at different Swiss universities, in particular for life science students, and has written extensively on a number of pertinent articles for several publications on this topic.