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The ABS Project Intellectual Property Management Group

Intellectual Property (IP) is a term referring to a number of distinct types of creations of the mind for which property rights are recognized, usually under a legal system. Such laws grant the owners certain exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets. IP rights are important as they protect the value of critical inventions such as the world’s first sorghum genetic transformation system created by the ABS project.  

The ABS project has an Intellectual Property Management Group that manages all the intellectual property issues within the consortium. Their purpose is to ensure that members within the project have freedom-to-operate (FTO) all the technology being used within the project, negotiate access to technologies with technology donors and other parties and facilitate patenting of new technologies developed by the project to enable free access of the technology for the public good.

The team enforces core IP values within the project such as the Charitable Objective that seeks to provide access to the knowledge created by the project and to supply the final ABS product through affordable and accessible means free from royalties and at not at a profit basis. Also, the Global Access Strategy that determines all the IP donated to and generated by the project should not be restricted but available to the global public. This means that farmers will have access to the final product at an affordable price and that the knowledge generated by the project will be publicly available for further research.

The team is has been led by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) with support from IP managers from consortium member institutions. The team manages the intellectual property, proprietary information and aspects of regulatory compliance across the whole consortium. The IPMG is also responsible for updating new technologies, and where applicable, assessing the suitability for patenting some of the new ones developed by the project for public good.

The IPMG has conducted an inventory of all technologies - genes, promoters and associated genetic materials - and related IP being used or to be used in the project.  A Freedom to Operate (FTO) analysis determined the extent to which the ABS project could utilize technologies without infringing the IP rights of owners and was completed soon after the project started. 


  2. Intellectual Property and Competition Policy in the Biotechnology Industry.  Policy Brief.  June 2005.  Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  4. Cukier KN (2006).  Navigating the Future(S) of Biotechnology Intellectual Property.  Nature Biotechnology 24.  8 March 2006.  pp249-251
  6. Kerr WA, Hobbs JE and Yampoin R (1991).  Intellectual Property Protection, Biotechnology and Developing Countries:  Will the Trips Be Effective? Agbioforum.  The Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management and Economics.  Vol 2:No. 3 and 4. Article 9.  pp 203-211
  7. The Africa Biofortified Sorghum Project Mid-Term Report, December 2007
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