South-north trade, intellectual property jurisdictions, and freedom to operate in agricultural research on staple crops

Eran Binenbaum, Carol Nottenburg, Philip G. Pardey, Brian D. Wright, Patricia Zambrano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


At present, crop breeders in less-developed countries have substantial freedom to operate regarding research on most crops of greatest significance for food security in poor countries. Intellectual property rights over biotechnologies relevant to agriculture are held mainly in (and are therefore mainly relevant to) rich-country jurisdictions. Intellectual property rights in the North affect farmers in the South (and, indirectly, the LDC breeders who supply them with modern cultivars) if they export infringing products to the North. However, South-North trade in the food staples is limited overall as well as in terms of the number of crops and the number of less-developed countries involved in any significant sense. Intellectual property rights-based limitations on export markets for food staples that embody technologies protected only in the North should not, in general, be considered an important impediment to the use of these technologies in such crops in the South. This does not mean that freedom to operate is not an issue for LDC research or production for those few staples for which exports of agricultural staples to Northern countries constitute a significant share of a Southern country's total exports. Problems may also arise for traders of Southern cash crops destined for Northern markets, such as horticultural products, tropical beverages, or dessert bananas. Undue concern about the freedom to conduct LDC research (or research by those working on behalf of LDCs) is misdirecting policy and practical attention away from the major current constraints on research on food crops for the South. There is an increasingly serious lack of investment in Southern research and a lack of local scientific skills needed to take advantage of the rapidly advancing stock of complex modern biotechnologies, whether they are protected by patents or not. Biotechnology is challenging the adaptive capacity that has enabled poor countries to benefit from the advances in plant genetics and other relevant technologies in the past half-century, and lagging public resources are not being replaced by private-sector investments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-335
Number of pages27
JournalEconomic Development and Cultural Change
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2003


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