Intellectual property FAQ

Intellectual property

Intellectual property (IP) and patents

What does Syngenta think about intellectual property (IP) and patents?

Intellectual property (IP) rights – especially patents – enable companies to generate a fair return on their investment into the research and development of new products. This provides an important incentive to dedicate resources to innovation, which is essential in agribusiness to address the significant challenges farmers face to provide food security for a growing global population.

Patents also foster knowledge sharing because an invention must be fully disclosed for a patent to be granted. Through this mandatory publication of the patent, patents are one of the best ways of promoting knowledge-sharing and speeding up innovation.

An efficient IP system needs to consider the interests of the inventor and society in finding the right balance between fostering innovations and providing access to information for others to innovate further. We believe that IP should be used primarily to create an incentive and a fair return for the investment of the innovator through licensing. In this way, IP can be an instrument to foster the dissemination, integration, and adoption of new technology.

How is IP used to protect plant-related innovations and seed?

Innovation relating to plant and seed development includes both traditional and modern breeding techniques. Modern techniques to create genetically optimized crops require substantial investment and involve lengthy development programs. A robust IP system is required to protect this investment in research and development because the resulting products can be easily “copied” through propagation.
There are two forms of IP protection for plant-related innovation:

  • Plant Variety Protection (PVP): PVP protects a new plant variety on the basis of its phenotypical characteristics, and is suitable for varieties developed through traditional breeding. The term of a PVP differs between countries and depends on plant species, but is generally between 15 and 25 years. PVP rights have specific exceptions, for example the free use of the protected variety for further breeding, or the right for farmers to practice farm-save-seed (saving part of their harvest for use as seed in the next season).
  • Patents: Patents on plants are only available in a few countries. Patents protect inventions so they are better suited for new traits derived from technical processes such as genetic modification or marker assisted breeding. In contrast to PVP, a patent needs to describe the invention in a way that it can be reproduced by others. Patenting promotes knowledge-sharing. Patented plant-related innovations normally require substantial development time and research investments – a new genetically-optimized plant can require 13 years development time and cost of up to $200m. Normally, a patent is filed at the very beginning of the development phase, thereby reducing effective protection substantially below the full term of 20 years. 

What patents can be applied to crop protection products?

The development of new active ingredients for crop protection products can take more than 10 years and cost around $260 million. Protecting innovations through patents is essential to enable innovators to recoup this substantial investment. Inventions related to crop protection are not limited to active ingredients. They also include mixtures, formulation or more efficient production processes, which can add substantial value to farmers and mitigate risks such as development of resistance. The data submitted throughout the process to gain regulatory approval for a new product also has substantial value and requires adequate protection against unauthorized use by competitors. 

What is Syngenta’s view and contribution to patent transparency?

Patent transparency is straightforward for many products. However, if commercial seed material that unknowingly comprises a patented trait is used in breeding programs, this could lead to patent infringement by the new plant variety and the need of licenses to commercialize it. 

Syngenta supports the efforts of the European Seed Association (ESA) to increase transparency and enable breeders to understand the use rights on existing varieties by providing a greater level of data and information. Syngenta has helped to develop the database PINTO, which provides patent information for plant varieties registered in the EU. This database is accessible to everyone.

Use and enforcement of intellectual property (IP)

Has Syngenta provisions to diversify licensing practices between research institutions and other companies?

Syngenta supports a balanced research exception in patent laws, which allows others to do research on an invention to enable further improvement of the innovation and shorten innovation cycles.

Most patent systems contain a research exemption, which allows further improvement of the invention. In countries without research exemptions (the US, for example), Syngenta encourages researchers to enter into research license agreements to obtain additional, proprietary information and stewardship support. Such research agreements are used to ensure researchers abide by appropriate stewardship standards, to safeguard the confidentiality and IP of proprietary information and to secure the highest standards of sound science. 

We undertake research projects with many universities and have thousands of research agreements with public sector institutions around the world. Our e-licensing initiative, TraitAbility, provides a facilitated way for researchers to access many biotechnology research tools – use is free of charge for non-profit institutes.

TraitAbility is one example of Syngenta initiatives to facilitate access to innovations in the plant and seed area to promote innovation lifecycles in an area critical to food security. Our initiatives follow the principle of “free access but not access for free” and follow the example of Access and Benefit Sharing under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources in Food and Agriculture.

What is farm-saved-seed?

Farm-saved seed (FSS) is the practice of farmers saving part of the harvest for use as seed in the following season - usually in open-pollinated crops such as soy, wheat and rice. We recognize the right of farmers to practice FSS within the limitations of the International Union for the Protection of new Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1991 convention. This requires farmers to take into account the legitimate interests of the breeder. In practice, this should limit FSS practices to those crops where seed saving is a traditional practice and should require farmers to pay a reasonable license fee for FSS unless it is being used for private, non-commercial use. We support this position and believe that FSS should be limited to crops where seed is traditionally saved.

Without proper controls and limitations in place, the extensive use of FSS reduces incentives to invest in productivity improvements of open-pollinated crops, which are the basis for food and feed. Uncontrolled use of FSS can also lead to the spread of seed-borne diseases which can reduce yields.

Syngenta will not enforce its plant variety protection rights against subsistence farmers in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) for either private or non-commercial use. 

Does Syngenta enforce patent rights in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs); is Syngenta offering humanitarian licensing?

We do not pursue or enforce patents and applications in seeds or biotechnology in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) for either private or non-commercial use. It is our policy not to enforce patent rights where agriculture is undertaken for subsistence purpose.

Syngenta was among the first companies to make genetic information freely available for humanitarian purposes, in the shape of the rice genome. Similarly, Syngenta has an interest in seeing the humanitarian benefits of Golden Rice become reality. Syngenta, the Syngenta Foundation and both of Syngenta’s legacy companies provided financial support and other resources to the inventors of this technology for a period of time. While we have no commercial interest in Golden Rice whatsoever, we continue to assist the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) as requested in regulatory and stewardship aspects of the project.

Why does Syngenta combat counterfeit?

Counterfeit products threaten the safety of our customers, farming communities, and the environment because they are not subject to the same level of research and testing as other products available on the market. Counterfeiting and piracy discourage innovation as investment in product and market development. There are also negative impacts on employment, technology transfer and tax revenues associated with counterfeit products.

We investigate cases of counterfeiting and initiate legal action against counterfeiters where appropriate. To combat the distribution of counterfeit products, we have also completed a comprehensive review of our product packaging to identify improvements and we are introducing features such as holograms on packaging which are difficult to counterfeit.

Licensing & Access and benefit sharing

What e-licensing solutions does Syngenta offer?

As farmers face increasing challenges, we aim to find better ways of making our products and technologies more accessible to plant breeders and growers around the world. By doing so we help ensure that companies, both large and small, can develop the diverse crop varieties required to grow more from less. We recognize that obtaining licenses can be a lengthy and costly process, especially for small companies. Our e-licensing system TraitAbility is an efficient, facilitated licensing process that enables breeders, companies and public research institutes to access many of our most important plant-related innovations.

TraitAbility provides straightforward access to our traits in vegetables under fair, transparent and standard terms. No negotiation is necessary, reducing transactional costs and maximizing potential value capture through increased out-licensing and/or access to complementary IP rights. The use for research, breeding and development is free. Licensees only pay a reasonable compensation if products are commercialized in countries where patents exist.

In addition to its e-licensing initiative, Syngenta is a founding member of the International Licensing Platform Vegetables (ILP) a Patent Clearing House for vegetable breeding traits and varieties, launched in November 2014. This platform facilitates the quick and efficient licensing of vegetable breeding traits under fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. ILP has broad support in the industry: the current members represent more than 50% of the vegetable seed market. Furthermore, approximately 60% of all patents are already committed to participate. The ILP is not an e-licensing, but an open licensing platform.

What does Syngenta think about Access-and-Benefit-Sharing (ABS) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)?

Syngenta supports the concepts of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources in Food and Agriculture and the principles of Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS), which seek to establish fair use of biological resources. Syngenta carefully observes these principles in its partnerships and commercial planning and strongly objects to biopiracy or illegal bio-sourcing.

Syngenta is concerned about the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing in certain countries like the European Union. The conditions for breeders are very onerous and go beyond the principles laid out in the CBD. The resulting legal uncertainty could endanger the use of plant genetic resources and breeding progress. Syngenta strongly supports the practical solution provided by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources under the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and is committed to work with the Treaty and its stakeholders to further evolve and expand the Treaty towards a sustainable solution for all crops.

Syngenta believes that the enforcement of the CBD/ABS requirements should be kept separate from patent and other IP systems, and should instead be regulated by civil law. A mandatory disclosure in patents of the origin of biological material should be limited to what is necessary for the enablement of the invention. This is already a requirement in the present patent law and does not need further amendments.

Post-patent approach

What impact will post patent/generic GM products have on Syngenta?

The patents on the first generation of genetically modified (GM) plants are about to expire. Seed providers and farmers are requesting international regulatory approvals to be maintained after this point to avoid trade disruption and ensure that competition and innovation in the GM seed industry continues. A number of stakeholders have developed a contractual approach to mitigate certain risk and problems of a post-patent era. For example, The AgAccord framework is a private-sector driven mechanism that provides for the transition of regulatory and stewardship responsibilities for biotechnology events, after patent expiration.

Syngenta is committed to facilitate a seamless transition from proprietary to generic market under conditions that safeguard the long-term stewardship and durability of our products. We favor a product-by-product approach, rather than an approach that treats all products the same regardless of their functions, durability, regulatory status, and stewardship considerations. We will notify customer groups and the wider industry four years before we discontinue support for cultivation and import authorizations of products that are no longer covered by patents. We will engage our licensees three years prior to a patent expiring so that we can develop an agreed approach should they intend to continue working with the product after the patent has expired.

What does Syngenta think about post patent/generic crop protection products?

Generic products make up around 30% of the global crop protection market by value. We welcome competition from generics but we believe that they must be subject to the same quality and safety standards as non-generic products. Our continuing innovation and product lifecycle management practices and especially our new strategy to provide integrated solutions to growers help to stay competitive in an environment with generic products.

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