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Syngenta's Head of Business Michael Kester responds to commotion:
"Patents on breakthrough innovations in seeds are the soul of sustainability"

Over the last couple of weeks, quite a buzz was generated after Syngenta announced their major breakthrough in the development of insect resistance in sweet/hot peppers. Besides a wave of negative reactions from certain organizations such as Bionext, the Dutch horticultural industry advocate, LTO reacted very strongly against the Swiss based biotech giant by saying that no patents can be obtained on natural features of a crop. According to Michael Kester, Syngenta's commercial head for the Benelux, many of these accusations made are incorrect and are blocking the innovative progress to develop sustainable and biological solutions for worldwide horticulture.

In an interview with HortiDaily.com, Kester said there is something contradictory in the industry's reactions. "Patents on insect resistance are not something completely new - they have been around for more than a decade - and promote the development of biological crop protection, so causing a stir in the media about this is completely unnecessary and is the last thing which will benefit the industry and the environment."


Elite breeding material

According to Syngenta's head of Benelux, the statement that the company is obtaining a patent on a natural feature of a plant is incorrect. "The resistance was known to be a natural feature in a wild variety, so this cannot be patented by anyone as it is not new. The point however is, that such wild type can't be grown commercially. Many years of R&D have been carried out to discover a completely new, efficient way to bring this valuable resistance to elite breeding material which can be used to breed commercial pepper varieties with resistance. The patent is all about the novel way you can implement the resistance feature in a commercial crop, not about the feature itself. And if any other breeder finds a different way to implement the same insect resistance in a pepper crop, they are free to do so."

According to Kester, the patented resistance can be seen as a novel, high performing Intel processor that has been built into most computers nowadays. "Each manufacturer of personal computers is licensing the Intel chip that they use in their own computers, but does anybody say that Intel has a monopoly on information or owns all computers with an Intel chip? 

E-licensing

Some commercial greenhouse growers reacted in the media by saying that the resistance will give Syngenta the monopoly in the sales of commercial bellpepper seeds in the future. "This is a misunderstanding, a monopoly is not something we are looking for and is definitely not the model behind the innovation," said Kester. "Every seed breeder has the possibility to license our innovation. The license is very easy to access via our online E-licensing platform and is made available to everybody in the industry."

The licensing of such patents is something common and quite normal in the global seed breeding industry. For example; most of the lettuce consumed nowadays is resistant against aphids; a similar 'chip' invented by a seed breeder over a decade ago; many other seed breeders are licensing this patent resistance from a Dutch breeder. Kester: "These seed breeders are willing to pay a certain amount of money for the license, because the growers are willing to pay more for the resistance in the seeds as this gives them the possibility to produce a crop that is free of aphids. The growers benefit from this as it saves them in pesticides that they no longer need. The license income gives the breeder a repayment on its investment, which can be invested in research for the next breakthrough."



Time to get rid of any uncertainties

But what if these patents didn't exist? Would breeders stop to invest large amounts of money and time in innovative research to find such resistances? Probably. "Patents on breakthrough innovations in seeds are the soul of this,Ē said Kester. "We have to put a lot of investment into these resistance features and the development of an efficient process to translate them into commercial varieties. We share them and make them available for everyone to use in their own breeds. We just ask for a small contribution to the cost that we incurred to invent the 'chip' and to continue our research into break through innovations to the benefit of all."

Kester is willing to enter talks with commercial vegetable growers and the Dutch industry advocate LTO. "I think we all have the same goal;  a sustainable and healthy industry. It is time to get rid of any uncertainties so we can continue to find innovative and new features for varieties that will contribute to this sustainable future with varieties that enable almost pesticide residue free and healthy production."

 

Publication date: 2/25/2014


 


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