Thursday, August 23, 2018

Where Intellectual Property (IP) and Sustainability Meet (GMO and Monsanto)

For decades Monsanto has enjoyed Intellectual Property (IP) protection on both sides of the plant-agro business. The dominant herbicide in the world, RoundUP, and the Genetically Engineered (GE or GMO) crops that shrug off the active ingredient – glyphosate – in RoundUp.
Patented Product (herbicide) that relies on Patented Products (GE crops)
Monsanto started using their glyphosate product in the 1970’s, a product that would become widely marketed under the branded and trademarked name of RoundUP®. Although the patents expired in 1991 and a related patent in 2000, Monsanto is still the major producer of glyphosate produces. Plus, the use of RoundUp has escalated over the years, for several reasons including the unfortunate fact that weeds have started to adapt and have become more tolerant of glyphosate.
But the major reason for the escalation in the use of RoundUP is that Monsanto genetic engineers have developed crops that are genetically modified to ignore glyphosate. That’s right, the engineers have twiddled with the genes of corn, soy, cotton and other crops that ignore RoundUP, so the herbicide kills only the weeds. In fact, the entire field can be sprayed in order to kill the weeds. These genetically modified plants are patented using “Plant Patents” and marketed under the branding of RoundUP Ready”.
Sex on the Farm, In the City, and in the GE Labs
First, a little background on sex, the birds and the trees. A new sexually created plant would be like taking pollen from one flower and introducing that plant to another. If they are close enough cousins, say a red and white rose, they may result in a new “varietal”, say a pink rose. If they are dissimilar then there is little chance that reproduction will happen. Creating a completely new varietal of plant using sexual approaches can be protected by the US Department of Agriculture through the Plant Varietal Protection Office.
On the other hand, asexual reproduction might be protectable through the US Patent and Trademark Office in the form of a plant patent. The USPTO discusses plant patents and summarizes “Asexually propagated plants are those that are reproduced by means other than from seeds, such as by the rooting of cuttings, by layering, budding, grafting, inarching, etc.” Tubulars (underground kind of plants like potatoes) have special exceptions.
There are only about 1,250 plant patents issued per year in the USA, just a fraction of a percent of all US Patents. The whole protection of new types of plant and animal concepts are rather specialized and esoteric.
A quick overview on GMOs (and Organic Foods) can be found at these sites:
In the USA, more than 90% of all corn, soy, cotton and more are genetically modified. Even though the RoundUP Ready® soybean patent expired in 2015, Monsanto has other intellectual property and legal agreements that tie up the crop. A farmer probably cannot legally save seeds from this year’s crop of RoundUp Ready® soy and plant the seeds next year (without paying a royalty or licensing fee). Plus, as you might expect, there are new patents on RoundUp Ready 2 Yield®, the next generation of patents to protect Monsanto’s monopoly in US food crops. (See this discussion/video at, a Monsanto site.)
The problem with Genetic Engineering is that we are making DNA changes that may have taken millions of years to occur in nature, if ever. When you change one gene in the DNA, you also need to change “transgenes” for the twiddling of the genes to be successful. The GE corn that is fed to the cows for years, will modify the DNA of the cows. The people who eat the corn, eat the meat, drink the milk and eat the cheese, will also have their DNA impacted. There are massive numbers of plants, animals and insects that interact with every crop. It may be decades before the full effect of a single genetically altered crop can be fully understood as they transition through bio systems.
Monsanto has been less than Truthful!
In mid-2018, Monsanto lost a major $289 lawsuit in California where a jury ruled that RoundUp resulted in the likely cause of non-lymphoma cancer to grounds keeper Dewayne "Lee" Johnson. There are many non-lymphoma cancer cases that have been building. This saga will go on, even though Monsanto has sold/merged into the chemical giant Bayer from Germany.
The prolonged use of RoundUp has resulted in glyphosate showing up in soil, waterways and food supply including vitamins and cereal. The available research showing about a 50-50 split on several factors including the health of soil. (See our discussion of available research by the Soil Association at on soil and glyphosate impact.)
But, discovery in the Johnson case demonstrates the efforts by Monsanto to influence research findings and block academic research that was damming to the use of RoundUp. One aspect is that glyphosate, when used as directed, in moderation, seems to be rather safe. But, glyphosate and RoundUp are two different things even though the herbicide product, obviously, contains the active ingredient. Other ingredients in the RoundUp cocktail would help with sticking and penetration. The surfactant(s) help penetrate the leaves/cells of a plant (or an animal, for that matter). Discovery also showed a very cozy relationship between Monsanto executives and the FDA.
When you see research that says that organic is much better than GMO, and research that says GMO is much better than organic, you have to ask yourself who is likely more truthful. The independent research, or the research commissioned by an Agro Giant? Given that the pro-GMO research is tainted, you should go with research that is totally independent and ignore the noise on the other side.  
We love innovation, intellectual property protection, and economic development… Monsanto is where intellectual property protection and sustainability meet: feeding a hungry world while protecting the innovators who work to do so…
You have to wonder, however, if Monsanto, like the tobacco industry before it, will end up on the wrong side of history on GMO-RoundUp?
As inventors and innovators, “may we collectively make the world a better place. And, may we have the wisdom to use a wealth of new technologies wisely.” (Hall & Hinkelman, 2018, p. 8)
For an overview of Intellectual Property and Patents check out Hall & Hinkelman’s  Patent Primer 4.0 a booklet in the Perpetual Innovation™ series at LuLu Press or Amazon.
Hall, E. B. & Hinkelman, R. M. (2018). Perpetual Innovation™: A guide to strategic planning, patent commercialization and enduring competitive advantage, Version 4.0. Morrisville, NC: LuLu Press. ISBN: 978-1-387-31010-4 Retrieved from:
Hall, E. B. & Hinkelman, R. M. (2017). Perpetual Innovation™: Patent primer 4.0: Patents, the great equalizer of our time! An overview of intellectual property for inventors and entrepreneurs.  Morrisville, NC: LuLu Press. ISBN: 978-1-387-07026-8 Retrieved from:  [Amazon v4.0e  ASIN: B074JJCDHG Retrieved from: ]  

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

IP for Corn that fertilizes itself with Nitrogen Fixing bacteria.

From SustainZine: Corn that fertilizes itself with Nitrogen Fixing bacteria. How best to propagate the innovation & commercialize it. #SustainZine #RegenerativeFarming
*** Blog Article ***
This is a cool article in Science by Ed Young about a giant corn varietal in Sierra Mixe Mexico that grows in very poor soil, but actually fertilizes itself. There's a bacteria that grows around the roots that absorbs nitrogen from the air and provides it to the corn. The team of researchers led by Alan Bennett from UC Davis referred to this a "Nitrogen Fixing" which works just like roots absorbing nitrogen from the soil.
In this case, the soil is very poor quality, so the corn actually gathers nitrogen from the air (78% nitrogen for dry air).
One major disadvantage of this corn is that it takes 8 months to mature.
The benefits are many. In a linear world of farming, row crops are raise on big farms and the crop shipped off to marked (cities), which deplete the soil. So fertilizers are needed to replenish the soil to grow the next crop. The fertilizers (mainly phosphate and nitrogen) end up running off into the water ways and result in massive ecological damage such as algae blooms and red tide.
Because fertilizers are expensive to buy, and expensive to apply, farmers continue to do a better job with fertilizers. (Other factors like urbanization, turf grass and golf course are taking over lead positions in pollution generation.)   However, linear systems in farming are non-sustainable, broken systems, compared to Regenerative Farming approaches that use non-til and corp rotations to restore the quality of the soil.
To commercialize this "nitrogen fixing" cereal crop requires some improvements, new varietals (sexual reproduction) or genetically engineered (GMO crops). The intellectual Property (IP) of such crops will be important. Profits and the capitalist system at work, availability to the people and countries that need it, and the property rights protections that make IP work are just a few important ingredients in the dissemination of new technology -- in this case, new crops.