Box 1. Limited-use licenses

From the following article

Under wraps

Emily Waltz

Nature Biotechnology 27, 880 - 882 (2009)

doi:10.1038/nbt1009-880

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Filtering through research requests can become unwieldy for companies. Pioneer, for example, has 11 people on staff whose sole job is to facilitate seed requests, says spokesperson Pat Arthur. So most major seed companies have a system in place with universities that allows academic scientists to do certain agronomic studies without having to get permission from the company for each study. For example, since 2002 Monsanto has distributed a broad academic research license to over 150 universities and research institutions, which allows research on commercial crops "to supply agronomic information," according to a copy reviewed by Nature Biotechnology. Research results can be published and discussed publicly.

Examples of "agronomic" research allowed under the license include experiments on weed management systems, insect management systems, tillage methods and variety performance—the kinds of things farmers would want to know when planting a new crop. Studies outside of agronomic research—breeding, reverse engineering or characterizing the genetic composition—require a separate, formal research agreement with Monsanto.

Nearly all the scientists Nature Biotechnology spoke with either did not know about Monsanto's limited-use license, or were unclear on what they would be allowed to do under the license. "That tells us that we haven't done as effective a job as we could in communicating that they have this license and the freedoms they have to conduct research," says Sachs at Monsanto. The July meeting between the seed companies and the public sector entomologists may spread the word about the existence of these kinds of agreements, says Ostlie.