Wageningen University & Research announced this week that it will provide non-profit organizations with free licences to use its CRISPR–Cas gene-editing technology for non-commercial applications. CRISPR tools can then be used, for instance, to help make food production sustainable, nutritious and safe. The university hopes that the move will inspire a worldwide change in CRISPR–Cas intellectual-property policy.

CRISPR–Cas offers an advantage over conventional plant breeding in that it can rapidly and efficiently modify plant traits — for example, to offset the impacts of climate change and pathogens. There have been thousands of CRISPR-related patent applications over the past decade, including by Wageningen University & Research and the Dutch Research Council.

Charging licence fees to protect intellectual property makes good business sense, but it can put technologies beyond the reach of non-profit organizations in low-income countries. These organizations are crucial to improving crops for local farmers and poor consumers. As the United Nations Food Systems Summit approaches, the importance of free access to CRISPR–Cas technologies in low-income nations must be recognized.