The British Academy has awarded funding for a two-year research project examining the patent governance of agricultural genome editing in the UK, the EU and Ukraine. The research will be undertaken by Professor Duncan Matthews and Dr Hanna Ostapenko (Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv), who will investigate the implications of patent governance for global food security and sustainability.
Genome editing has great potential for non-human uses of genome editing technologies from a patent law perspective. New varieties of plants can be developed that are disease resistant or have a higher crop yield, while new breeds of farmed animals or marine life can be introduced into the food system in order to offer a broader range of options to consumers and to contribute positively to food security.
Following the invasion of Ukraine, an increased focus is being placed on the need for policies that can help to ensure global food security and sustainability. The agricultural use of genome editing technologies becomes of critical importance in this context. Yet the way in which genome editing techniques for agriculture are regulated by law raises new important legal, environmental, and ethical issues.
After the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, the UK Government announced new legislation that will make it easier to undertake gene editing research for agriculture, and published guidance to assist researchers and developers. The UK has been able to adopt this approach in variance to the more restrictive arrangements applied under EU law.
Should Ukraine wish to harmonise with the EU approach, the opportunity to utilise genome editing technologies to ensure food security may be restricted because EU law is widely interpreted as prohibiting the use of genome editing techniques for agriculture. The type of legislation that Ukraine adopts will therefore have important implications for global food security.
An EU-based approach would not permit gene editing for agriculture to take place in the same way as the new UK approach allows. As Ukraine considers how to develop and grow plants that are more nutritious, beneficial to the environment, more resilient to climate change, and resistant to disease and pest, the decisions taken by Ukraine about which legal approach to follow will have important implications worldwide.
Building on the recent work of Professor Duncan Matthews and colleagues on the patent governance of human genome editing, this project expands into agricultural contexts, combined with Dr Osapenko’s expertise in legal certainty and patent law in Ukraine. In doing so, the project provides new insights, new perspectives, and new policy advice on how best to achieve a balanced approach capable of applying genome editing techniques for agriculture in a manner conducive to ensuring global food security.
The project examines the risks and benefits of restrictive or permissive approaches to the governance of agricultural genome editing, taking into account the environment, food security and sustainability alongside patent law and wider regulatory affairs. It looks at the potential for patent licencing to have implications in terms of directing agricultural research investment towards particular applications, as well as allowing patent holders to limit or even prohibit a particular use of a certain process or product.
The research is funded by the British Academy’s Researchers at Risk Fellowships Programme and will run from September 2022 until August 2024, during which time Dr Hanna Ostapenko will be based in the Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute at the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London.