Rights and Responsibilities of GMO Patent Owners

In Canada, imbalances between the rights and responsibilities of GMO patent owners has global implications.

As GMOs have become more prevalent, property law, specifically intellectual property law, has had to face questions such as: what rights does a patentee have concerning the second, third and subsequent generations of progeny of transgenic organisms containing a patented biotechnological invention? Among the questions faced in tort law is the inverse: what are the responsibilities of a patentee when such things cause harm to persons, property or economic interests? Both questions are reflective of the social, legal, ethical and commercial controversies that permeate the topic of biotechnology.

Biotechnology issues must be studied as part of a bigger picture. Looking at them through the lens of patent law or tort law in isolation is inadequate, yet little work has been done on the link between IP rights and tort liabilities in biotech.

Only a handful of scholars have juxtaposed these issues. No judge has yet conducted a thorough and comprehensive legal analysis. Questions about rights and responsibilities are too often examined independently of each other. Moreover, extra-legal considerations, including philosophical, ethical, economic, environmental and other social concerns, are too often ignored.

While patentees are quick to invoke the power of property rhetoric to expand and protect their rights, when it comes to the liabilities ordinarily associated with ownership, the tune suddenly changes. Biotech patent owners must start owning up to their ownership obligations.

I explored one aspect of this trend,  the rights and responsibilities of biotech patent owners in the field of agriculture, in my  presentation at the Patenting Lives Conference hosted by Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Centre, University College London, as well as in my talk at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law’s conference, “The Right to Food at the Nexus of Trade and Technology.”

I further explored this topic at a symposium that I co-organized at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law “Fields of Law: Perspectives and Intersections in the Law on Genetically Modified Plants in Hoffman v. Monsanto.”

This research culminated in a paper published in the University of British Columbia Law Review.

The Rights and Responsibilities of Biotech Patent Owners by jeremydebeer