Open Access

Between Sharing and Protecting: Public research on genetic resources in the year of the potato

Genomics, Society and Policy20084:10

DOI: 10.1186/1746-5354-4-3-10

Published: 15 December 2008

Abstract

Countries, companies and farming communities are increasingly involved in issues of sharing and protecting plant genetic resources, (traditional) knowledge and technologies. Intellectual Property Rights and Access and Benefit-Sharing policies currently regulate the transfer and usage of much of this genetic material, information and related production, which is employed in multiple research projects involving public research institutes. Strikingly, not much is known about how these institutes deal with the transfer and usage regulations. And what, furthermore, are their responsibilities while serving a civil society in which there is such a range of diverging interests in and opinions about such regulations? In order to shed more light on these questions, two public research institutes will here be studied, the International Potato Centre in Peru and Wageningen University & Research Centre in the Netherlands. These institutes are both heavily involved in research into genetic resources, knowledge and technologies related to the potato, and work together with a wide spectrum of stakeholders that have a direct interest in the sharing and/or protection of these resources. The two institutes are continuously weighing up the various stakeholder interests in their attempts to strike a balance between policies geared towards sharing and those aimed at protection. It will be argued that public research institutes must dare to share, and that they need to develop new ways of sharing and protecting in order to adhere to their mission and best serve the public interest.