I split my talk into two sections, giving two very concrete examples of how the history and philosophy of science can directly inform contemporary practice. Both points can also be generalised, not only for 'HPS, plant breeders and intellectual property', but for 'HPS, industrial/charitable/national partner and important issue X'.
In the first half of the talk, I focussed on how HPS can uncover the various different forces that produced the contemporary IP landscape in which we all live. I focussed on the origins of the most crucial development in C20th UK plant breeding, Plant Breeders’ Rights. By unpacking the various different social and scientific changes that together helped make PBR’s desirable, then possible, and finally actual, historians of science can open up the contemporary discussion, one that staff at the ORC are already heavily embedded in. Much can be accomplished by simply pointing to a time before PBRs existed, which is not to say we necessarily wish to return to such a time, merely that we can thereby better understand how they came about, and avoid any assumptions or biases that we would no longer wish to carry with us. The bias I focussed on was that of the need for purity in varieties, which seems to have come of age in the interwar years and flourished following the Second World War.
In the second half of the talk, I explained how HPS theories and analysis can help plan for the future. The focus was of course on Professor Gregory Radick’s IP-narrow and IP-broad framework. When debating and discussing the kinds of heterogenous varieties that the ORC is currently breeding (along with a growing number of researchers who see these varieties’ greater adaptability to the environment as an essential characteristic in the face of climate change) some proponents and opponents will sometimes cast the debate as one either for or against IP. This is an unhelpful simplification, one which largely serves to discredit those wishing critique IP law as it currently stands. By embracing the language of IP-narrow/IP-broad, more voices can be brought to the debating table, and a richer notion of intellectual property used in formulating future economic development policies. Over the next few months I will be working with as many actors within plant breeding as possible, to find more and more concrete uses to which IP-narrow/IP-broad might be put.
Just to finish, I would like to let you know that we will soon be hosting a guest post written by one of our collaborators, Dr Viola Prifti, on a conference she recently attended on IP and the biosciences. Things are heating up, so make sure to follow us on twitter, and stick this blog in your RSS readers. Also, don’t be shy about suggesting events for us to attend, or things for us to read.