How Cambia Is Strengthening the Agricultural Open Source Infrastructure
By Sam Finegold
"You probably associate the “open-source” licensing system with software (Linux and the Apache web server). But the original open source innovators weren’t coders: They were farmers.
For centuries farmers optimized their crops and livestock by breeding and selection, and retained the best plants or animals and shared the seed or lines with other farmers, who then further improved on them. This represents the conventional model of open-source licensing: where a party can use and develop a product, and then use that technology to profit as long as they do not block others improving upon that technology.
In the 20th century the business model of seed supply drifted away from open source. The many legal changes that occurred (The Plant Patent Act of 1930 and the Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970) gradually shifted emphasis onto private control of collections of genetic traits, or “germplasm.”
As plant varieties became privatized and commoditized, corporations began to take more control of the innovation process. Economic and reputational incentives began to overshadow philosophical considerations of how publicly funded research translates into public good. Sharing of technologies was deemphasized.
By the mid-1980s patent policy allowed the full patent protection for open pollinated plants and genetic material and excluded farmers from reselling seeds to one another. The last consolidation of control came during the 1990s when the developing world adopted the industrialized model of treating plant genes as items of “commerce.”
As germplasm became increasingly an object of profit rather than open-source sharing, corporations began to spend enormous amounts on security to protect their agricultural microbiological assets, many times in court. Monsanto, one of the world’s largest agricultural biotech firms, even contemplated using (but never used due to its unpopularity) a “terminator” plant that produced infertile seeds, which would prevent farmers from reusing the genetically modified organism, or GMO.
Today six companies control 70 percent of agricultural biotech and continue to be embroiled in lawsuits with farmers and each other. This corporate control quashes innovation at the academic and small-business levels.
An open-source platform for bioinnovation?
The biotechnology revolution has failed to answer gaping problems facing humans: hunger, natural resource stewardship, and disease prevention. The agricultural biotechnology business model is structured such that corporations are the only players who can amass all of the necessary components of innovation...."
Via Gerd Moe-Behrens