The BiOS Initiative ?Biological Innovation for Open Society- is often called Open Source Biotechnology. The BiOS model has resonance with the Open Source software movement, famous for such successful efforts as Linux. Open Source software hasspurred faster innovation, greater community participation, and new robust business models that break monopolies and foster fair competition. BiOS targets parallel challenges that limit the effective use of modern life sciences in agriculture to only a few multinational corporations.
"New technologies are increasingly tangled in complex webs of patent and other legal rights, and are usually tailored for wealthy countries and well-heeled scientists," said IRRI's Director General, Robert Zeigler. "Half the world depends on rice as a staple food?but this also means half the world's potential innovators could be brought to bear on the challenges of rice production, given the right toolkits ?and the rights to use them".
In the joint work, CAMBIA's Patent Lens, already one of the most comprehensive costfree full-text patent databases in the world, will be extended to include patents in major rice-growing countries, including China, Korea, and India. These same countries are growing powerhouses of innovation, poised to play lead roles in the next generation of biological problem solving.
The Patent Lens will also develop analyses and foster the capacity in the developing world to create patent maps of the key emerging technologies that could be constrained by complex intellectual property rights worldwide, including the rice genome itself. These patent 'landscapes' w ill be used to guide the development of improved technology toolkits in a new, inclusive manner.
Says Richard Jefferson, CAMBIA's CEO, "It's not so much about getting access to old patented technology ?it's about forging collaborations to develop better, more powerful tools within a 'protected commons' to get different problem solvers to the table."
Thesecould for example be tools for precise, natural genetic enhancements, using non-GM approaches (for example, homologous recombination), new plant breeding methods such as marker assisted selection, or even true breeding hybrids of crop species that would allow farmers in developing countries to use hybrid seed year after year. Adds Jefferson, "Scientists and farmers need better options for problem solving, that meet their priorities, work within their constraints, build on their ingenuity, and maintain their independence; this is what BiOS is all about."