safeguarding agricultural research breakthroughs through iprs
by Nkechi Isaac

Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) include the right to intangible creations of the human intellect and primarily encompasses copyrights, patents, and trademarks. It also includes other types of rights such as trade secrets, publicity rights, moral rights, and rights against unfair competition.

With regard to life sciences, modern biotechnology techniques have caused increase in knowledge in the last two decades and this has resulted in many intangible creations of the human intellect. In response to such creations, the world has witnessed substantial changes in the legal application and interpretation of IPRs. In addition to scientific and legal shifts, there has also been the scientific and legal shifts, there has also been a quantum leap in IPR-related revenue due to greater globalization of trade in intangible creation of the human intellect.

Speaking during an IPR interactive workshop for agricultural scientists, research managers, lawyers and policy makers in the federal government’s ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) organized by the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in Abuja, the NABDA acting director-general, Prof. Alex Akpa, said greater trade globalization introduced major IPR concerns in the biotechnology sector, listing some of the concerns to include rights, access and ownership of germplasm and technologies that help farmers improve agricultural output and meet the need for industrial raw materials.

“To handle these concerns, a strong understanding of IPRs is important. This is particularly so for researchers and MDAs of government and private institutions involved in knowledge use and generation,” he said.

The NABDA boss pointed out that the capacity building workshop for federal MDAs would also educate researchers and policy makers on the basic principles of biotechnology IPR management by establishing clear lines of responsibility for negotiating licenses/sub licenses and reviewing and signing material transfer agreements.

He highlighted objectives of the workshop to include understanding IPRs as it relates to agricultural innovations and to raise awareness on the inherent benefits; educating participants on the use of IPR information particularly relating to patents and designs, plant varieties and trade secrets; sensitizing participants on the need for the protection of intellectual assets from misappropriation by third party; and advocating for the development of an effective IPR framework through new legislations or amendment of existing legislations in line with international treaties.

Akpa expressed optimism that the workshop with IPR experts in Nigeria and beyond will equip MDAs with the knowledge of the laws governing IPR, provide opportunities in IPR and the need for the establishment of IPR advocacy group.

“In addition, we expect to have strengthened your skills in IPR application to agricultural biotechnology in view of the recent varietal release of Bt cotton in Nigeria. Armed with this knowledge, we hope to see improved entrepreneurial culture within public institutions and enhanced knowledge on how to approach research with commercialization as the end goal,” he added.

In his remarks, the AATF West Africa regional representative, Dr Issoufou Kollo, averred that IPR was becoming very important, not only in agricultural biotechnology but agricultural research and sciences.

He stressed that Africa, especially Nigeria, is being exploited by the world because they do not protect products of their intellect, saying Nigeria is still grappling with imbibing IPR culture.

 

“If you discover a product, how do you go about it? You need to get intellectual property rights. It goes beyond plants, it also covers animals. It is very important. If you look at what is happening in Africa, our germplasm collections, sorghum, cowpea and others are being used everywhere in the world. We lose IPR because the odds are against us because we are still very backwards technologically and scientifically.

“Biotechnology is not cheap science and there is need for the IP of discoveries and innovations to be protected. There are many prospects in the sector which we have to explore as a country in order to catch up with the rest of the world. So, we need this IPR to protect our innovative breakthroughs in research institutions. It is not only for private research institutions but also for national research institutions,” Kollo said.

Earlier, the director-general of the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), Dr. DanAzumi Ibrahim said the agency with the mandate to promote intellectual property and promote and encourage the development of creative and inventive skills among Nigerian scientists, researchers, inventors and innovators was at home with the issues of intellectual property in Nigeria, harping on the need for research breakthroughs to be secured through IPR.

He said, “One of the basic reasons we’re concerned with IP issuance in NOTAP is because there is need for everybody, a researcher or whoever to benefit from the products of his intellect which is what IP is all about. And a lot of people, especially in the tertiary institutions believe that unless you publish your research results you perish but where we promote the protection of IP, you will not only prosper but would be encouraged to do other research. So, we’re very keen in promoting the awareness for IPR in all means of endeavours not just agricultural biotech.”

Ibrahim who was represented by the acting director, technology acquisition and research coordination department, NOTAP, Shafiie Ahmed, urged participants to embrace the IPR culture, saying researchers’ efforts and time invested in research work would be wasted because others would benefit from it especially where it is not protected.

Earlier, Patents and Designs registrar, Mrs Stella Ezenduka emphasized that the global economy has shifted from resource to knowledge-based, pointing out that knowledge means technology and urged the MDAs present at the workshop to leverage on the over 90 million data on all fields of technology domiciled with the Technology Innovation Support Center (TISC) to come up with new innovations that are patentable.

In his remarks, the director-general of National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr Rufus Ebegba averred that the effort of equipping researchers with requisite knowledge on IPR was a welcome development that would invariably boost research in the country.

“This effort that is being made here today to fine-tune and come up with another roadmap to ensure that we have a very buoyant and unique IPR is a very good initiative. The essence of IPR is that it promotes the spirit of research and development. We need to protect those who have been able to come up with inventions and initiatives to do serious research to secure and protect such with intellectual property.

“IP would help scientists to become very industrious, competitive in their research work. This I am sure would lead to serious inventions in various aspects, particularly in the agricultural sector and by that we can come up with good, sound and very quality seeds that can enhance the productivity of our farmers for domestic production and exports and to earn foreign earnings,” Ebegba added.

Similarly, the director-general of National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), Dr Philip Ojo said the agency was willing and ready to partner organisations that would enable Nigeria to participate in the multi-global seed business that is actually taking place which the nation was not taking advantage of now, adding “what we’re doing here today, we’re in the process of ensuring that Nigeria is properly placed in the map to play in the global seed business market.”

 

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