Seed companies near deal on off-patent GMO technology

What happens when patents for genetically modified seeds expire?

Monsanto has made billions off Roundup Ready soybeans, corn, canola, and other crops since launching a glyphosate-tolerant soybean in 1996. But the upcoming expiration of its patent for the herbicide-resistant trait in 2014 raises an array of concerns, including who bears the costs and responsibilities of maintaining regulatory approvals. That involves submitting data to foreign countries to maintain approval for seed sales in those countries.

The American Seed Trade Association and the Biotechnology Industry Organization say they have completed the first phase of an industry accord that addresses these issues. The announcement marks progress in an ongoing, sometimes contentious, effort by major seed industry players like Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and smaller seed companies to agree on obligations and opportunities as biotech seed patents expire.

Monsanto has said it will maintain Roundup regulatory approvals globally through 2021. But the industry has been seeking a broad mechanism to protect international regulatory approvals and address product stewardship to keep international trade from being disrupted.

Under the accord announced late last month, those companies that sign on will be required to provide notice of patent expiration three years before the last patent on the biotechnology event expires, and provide access to the genetic event at patent expiration. The company then must maintain the regulatory data for at least four years or transition that with other users.

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