Do patent-style intellectual property rights on transgenic crops harm the environment?


  • T. Goeschl


This paper examines the linkages between the system that society uses to incentivize R&D by private innovators in the area of crop improvement on the one hand and the environment on the other. This examination is an important addition to the technology-assessment exercise conducted in the context of transgenic crops since it focuses on the organization of the R&D process rather than on the outputs. The paper first demonstrates that design choices with respect to the system of rewards under which crop improvement is carried out determine important characteristics of R&D outputs. In particular, it shows that choosing a patent-style system of intellectual property rights (IPR) will impact on the rate, direction, pace and mode of technological change in the agricultural system. This is relevant in an environmental context because the R&D outputs thus generated interact with biological systems. Specific production and adoption characteristics of these outputs therefore matter in environmental terms. While the presence of these environmental impacts is a generic characteristic of carrying out crop R&D under patent-style IPRs, the extent of these deviations differs between conventional and transgenic crops and is determined by a number of biological, technological and legal key determinants. A comparison of the differences in these key determinants between conventional and transgenic crops shows that there are some areas in which there is no difference between conventional and transgenic crops, in particular with respect to the mode and direction of technological progress. In those areas where we find differences, the differential environmental impact of moving from conventional to transgenic crops is ambiguous