May 5, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Mike Lee, Sacramento Bee, 04/30/04:
UC Davis will lead a nationwide effort to bring the
benefits of future biotech crops to developing countries
and to farmers who don't attract much interest from
Starting in July, the University of California, Davis,
becomes home to an initiative called the Public Intellectual
Property Resource for Agriculture. PIPRA is a collection
of about 20 universities and philanthropic groups that
united last summer to overcome the legal barriers that
slow development of biotech crops.
PIPRA is funded by the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis,
Minn., and the Rockefeller Foundation of New York. The
cost for the first three to five years of PIPRA is pegged
at approximately $1 million.
The UC Davis role, made public Thursday, boosts its
already considerable status in the world of ag biotechnology,
and campus leaders quickly embraced PIPRA as an important
part of UCD's educational and research mission.
"We felt we had a public responsibility to this
particular program because it would benefit the entire
world," said Lynne Chronister, associate vice chancellor
for research administration at UC Davis.
UC Davis was chosen from among four possible sites
because it offered space, computers and administrative
support for the infant operation, along with biotech
expertise, said Rex Raimond, who helped manage the site-selection
process as part of the consulting group Meridian Institute.
The campus' startup contribution is $75,000.
Alan Bennett, a UC intellectual property guru, was
tapped to lead PIPRA during its first year.
"It's a high-profile organization, and the campus
takes some pride in hosting it," he said. "It's
seen as an organization that can solve problems and
really address the issues that have been out there."
In addition to the national PIPRA executive committee,
a newly formed PIPRA advisory board at UC Davis includes
Gurdev Khush, one of the world's foremost rice breeders;
Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center
on campus; and Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director
of the UC systemwide biotech program housed at Davis.
Despite PIPRA's humanitarian goals, biotech crops are
rejected in spots around the world because of potential
environmental or human health concerns that come with
moving genes around in ways not possible in nature.
For instance, Mendocino County banned the growing of
genetically engineered crops in March.
PIPRA was formed last summer by some of the nation's
leading academics to address legal barriers that have
emerged over the past two decades. Private companies
have patented huge volumes of genes and licensed fundamental
tools for creating biotech crops.
The net effect, wrote PIPRA founders, is this: "Although
many significant discoveries and technologies have been
generated with public funding, these discoveries are
no longer accessible as 'public goods.' "
The formation of PIPRA underscores interest in developing
biotech crops important in poor countries, where companies
have little incentive to operate, and in places like
California, where biotech companies have blocked the
use of their technology for specialty crops.
Said Bennett: "With the level of genomics research
that is going on, there are going to be a large number
of new discoveries, and PIPRA wants to be positioned
and available to work with those technologies as they
In coming months, there is a more modest goal: cataloging
publicly owned biotech tools for university researchers.
A one-stop shop also will benefit companies by making
it easier to find who owns specific inventions they
might want to use.
Bennett also aims to broaden university participation
and to integrate more intellectual property issues into
the UC Davis curriculum.