Biotechnology & Intellectual Property in Latin America
by Moeller IP Advisors
The future is coming to Latin America. Does your business have the expertise to everything that comes with it? Beyond the technical know-how and capital to innovate in the biotech sector, you need to be able to own your ideas and own your concepts.
How important is it to have strong IP protections for the industry’s growth? In biotech, no matter what country or hemisphere we are talking about, ideas are being generated all the time. And they need to be safeguarded, both for personal economic gain and for social good. A protected idea that is controlled by a functional, benign government entity can be a societal asset. Especially when it comes to biotech.
As the biotechnology sector grows in Latin America, it becomes more and more important for companies to have a firm grasp of their intellectual property needs.
Latin America’s biodiversity lends itself to opportunities for study and research that don’t exist in other continents. With all that opportunity for research, fresh ideas and new fields of study are bound to flourish. Which means that intellectual property that may arise from the continent may be more plentiful in the years to come. All the more reason to pay attention to the biotech sector in Latin America.
Of course, all this economic activity can present a problem. A problem many would like to have, but a problem nonetheless. More biotech research means more patent applications. In a country that has a less-developed patent filing system, which can create a healthy backlog of patents. Not enough workers to process and outdated systems can exacerbate the backlog.
This blog post from IAM Media details some ways that Brazil is attempting to deal with this thorny issue. According to the post, the Brazilian Patent and Trademark Office estimated that 67% of patents in 2014 were filed 10 years prior. As of 2016, the PTO is streamlining groups of public employees and implementing a new e-patent electronic filing system. Those measures should help, but Brazilian companies in the biotech game should take measures to protect any valuable IP they generate.
Protecting the Coffee Crop
The coffee trade is extremely important to the economic fortunes of Costa Rica. So protecting its main crop from fungi and pests is vital for coffee farmers in the country. That creates opportunities for biotech start ups in other countries to expand operations into the region.
But instead of opening up a regional office, Arizona company BioNovelus, Inc. created a separate entity, BioNovelus-CostaRica, that will oversee the company’s products throughout Central America. BioNovelus makes a promising biodegradable fungicide that may provide defenses against fungal threats to coffee crops. That type of business practice make sense in a region that doesn’t have the same type of historical IP protections the United States does. Get boots on the ground in the countries that will be using the product.
Food and Fuel
With worldwide demand for food and fossil fuel alternatives booming, South America is uniquely positioned for biotech companies delivering innovative ideas in both those areas. From sugarcane-based ethanol in Brazil to Argentina leading the way in genetically modified crop production, the region is poised to make serious strides these sectors.
Being on the cusp means that governments must act to insure that their industries stay economically competitive. Brazil revamped its legal system to pave the way for the development of biotechnology. The Innovation Law and the Biosecurity Law both create structures and legal framework that need to exist for modern companies to focus on innovation and wealth creation.
With Argentina’s genetically modified (GM) crop growth, the industry is in relative infancy, compared to other countries in the world. Patent enforcement and protections has its issues, which the multinational Monsanto had to learn firsthand.
But IP concerns are essential for innovation to flourish in these fields. Take the example of Rachel Chan, a biochemist at National University of Litoral in Argentina. Her research led to the development of a drought-resistant soybean crop, which has been a major boon to the country’s GM food industry. But she needed to partner with Bioceres, an Argentinean biotech company, in order to get a patent.
This Wired article about Chan’s work puts it simply: “Developed in a publicly-funded lab and commercialized by a national company, it could be a model for getting ethical transgenic crops onto people’s plates.”
No matter the generator of these technologies and ideas, whether it is multinational companies or nationalized industries, the intellectual property must be properly taken care of. And Latin American countries have a significant amount of these IP needs.
These protections are essential for growing businesses and nascent technologies south of the equator.