IPRs and Flax Breeding


Recently posted on the CAIRN website http://www.ag-innovation.usask.ca/ is a working paper that I co-wrote with friend and colleague Viktoriya Galushko from the University of Regina.  Our collaborative piece is entitled: “Intellectual Property Rights and Knowledge Sharing in Flax Breeding”.  http://www.ag-innovation.usask.ca/cairn_briefs/publications%20for%20download/CAIRN_FlaxReport_Galushko&Ryan_Aug2010.pdf

The paper provides a bit of history around flax and flax production worldwide, the role of flax trade for Canada and provides an outline of the structure of the flax breeding industry in a global context.  It then delves into the nuances of intellectual property in flax breeding covering issues such as: patents, the role of PBRs, MTAs and knowledge sharing and research tools.  In particular, through a series of one-on-one interviews with Canadian flax breeders, the paper uncovers what, if any, impacts IPRs have had on flax breeding.

Here’s an excerpt from our conclusions:

“The interviews with the Canadian flax breeders confirm that developments in the area of IPRs have changed the informal nature of research materials exchange. Most material exchange is now fulfilled through MTAs that specify the rules for the use of the transferred material and ownership of the research results. MTAs do not generally impede the flow of genetic materials among breeders, however, they are claimed to add another layer of bureaucracy and make the exchange process more cumbersome and lengthy.

There is evidence that stronger IPRs have contributed to increased secrecy in the sector, however, the current IP protection system is still perceived by the breeders as efficient in terms of knowledge dissemination. The responses of the flax breeders support the view that IP protection has not posed any threats to varietal development so far, although the flax breeding industry in Canada does face some non-IP related hindrances to variety development. One of the major hindrances to varietal development mentioned by the respondents is how plants with novel traits are defined in Canada. Canadian definition significantly differs from the rest of the world and by including mutagenesis-based breeding techniques into a PNT category it restricts access of the Canadian breeders to foreign genetic material. Additionally, it creates uncertainties when marketing Canadian crops to Europe where a PNT might be perceived as a GMO and therefore, might be refused access to the European market.”

These “uncertainties” have been most apparent in the past several months as the Canadian flax industry has had to tackle the Triffid issue.  For more on this, see other blog entries including:







For more: search “Consider Icarus” with the term: Triffid

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Moreover they that work in fine flax, and they that weave networks, shall be confounded.” (quote from the Bible)

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