Promoting Sustainable Innovations in Plant Varieties

Promoting Sustainable Innovations in Plant Varieties

Promoting Sustainable Innovations in Plant Varieties

My Ph.D. thesis, titled “Promoting Sustainable Innovations in Plant Varieties: Revisiting “Creative Destruction” and “Market Failure” was published a couple of years ago by Springer Nature under the simplified title: “Promoting Sustainable Innovations in Plant Varieties.” The Ph.D. was fully funded by a fellowship from the International Max Planck Research School for Competition and Innovation (IMPRS-CI) during 2009-2013 and recieved top grades (Summa cum Laude) from both academic reviewers. The book has recived considerable attention since its publication. A very creative, engaging and unusual review of the book was recently written by Prof. Graham Dutfield (University of Leeds), and was published by Elsevier (see here). Here I provide an overview of some of the findings of the book, which, in my view, might be the most exciting for anyone researching this field. This overview has also been published in the latest Progress Report (Tätigkeitsbericht) of the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition.

Promoting Sustainable Innovations in Plant Varieties,Mrinalini Kochupillai. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg (2016). xxi + 335 pp., ISBN: 978-3-662-52795-5

The study develops the term “sustainable innovations” and defines it, in the context of plant variety innovations, as innovations that by their very nature (i) permit in situconservation, improvement and evolution of agrobiodiversity; (ii) maintain the rich genetic variability inherent in this agrobiodiversity in diverse geographic and climatic conditions; (iii) do not exclude any potential innovators from the process of innovation; and (iv) thereby ensure that both formal and informal innovations can continue to take place in the generations to come (in both the developed and developing world). Accordingly, the Indian Plant Variety Protection Act, the UPOV Acts and associated agricultural policies are studied from a legal, philosophical, historical and economic perspective with the aim of determining the means of promoting sustainable innovations in plant varieties and identifying laws, policies and practices that are currently acting as impediments to promoting and accomplishing the same.

The study looked into the following research questions from a multi-disciplinary and/or empirical perspective: How should the study define the term “sustainable innovations”? What means (at the legal, policy and practical levels) are currently adopted (internationally) to promote any kind of innovation in plant varieties? Do these means also promote “sustainable innovations”? Are there any facts, circumstances, policies, laws or practices that make the accomplishment of the ideal of promoting sustainable innovations, difficult or impossible? What are the trends vis-à-vis seed saving, seed improvement/innovation and in situ agrobiodiversity conservation among farmers of various regions in India, for various crops?

A partially mixed, concurrent and sequential, equal status design was adopted for the study (i.e., mixed methods research, combining qualitative and quantitative research methods). For the qualitative research, the historical research method, combined with traditional legal literature review, interviews with relevant stakeholders and descriptive analysis of qualitative data so collected, was undertaken. For the quantitative research, data was collected using the stratified random sampling scheme, with the help of a structured questionnaire. Econometric analysis using Stata was conducted on the quantitative data collected via farmer interviews. As is a suggested practice in partially mixed research, the “mixing” of the qualitative and quantitative findings was done at the data interpretation stage.

Using this methodology, the book investigates and questions some commonly made presumptions on which the current plant variety protection regime in India and under UPOV (1978 or 1991) are based: It is frequently presumed that seed saving by farmers to save costs associated with purchase of new or improved seeds from the market is an equally prominent trend among farmers in various regions of India, notwithstanding the land holding size, the level of education, and/or the crop being cultivated by the farmers. In fact, the farmers’ exemption under the Indian law as well as under UPOV (1978) are based largely on this presumption. Empirical research conducted as part of this study, in two regions of India, involving more than 200 farmers, agricultural extension officers and academic researchers proved otherwise. Further, in the Indian context, it was expected that following the adoption of the Indian PPV & FR Act, the private and public sector’s interest in R&D will become more diversified to include self-pollinating crops and typical seeds, and will not continue to focus on crops whose floral biology is conducive to creating F1 hybrids that prevent farmer level seed saving. A detailed statistical analysis of the plant variety protection applications filed in India from 2007-2013 again revealed the opposite.

The book finds that from a normative perspective, neither the Indian Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 (PPV & FR Act), nor the UPOV texts are equipped to address the market failures that are unique to the plant variety innovations sector in developed or developing countries; neither are they fully suited to promoting sustainable innovations in plant varieties. In fact, the Indian Plant Variety Protection Act and similar regimes that promote optimal innovations in plant varieties tend to undermine and even actively disincentivize farmer level seed innovation and in situ agrobiodiversity conservation. Indeed, since in situ agrobiodiversity conservation through saving and exchange of traditional as well as newer seed varieties, is a perquisite and even a synonym of farmer level seed innovations, intellectual property rights and associated policies such as the seed replacement policy of the Indian government, act as ‘perverse incentives’, turning farmers away from their traditional role of conserving and improving seeds in situ.

Further, technological development in the formal seed sector (private sector), which permits the creation of F1 hybrid seeds (as well as newer technologies engaging cytoplasmic genetic male sterility or GURT technologies) that do not reproduce true to type and preclude farmer seed saving, are, in themselves, adequate to incentivize private sector participation in plant varieties innovation. A study of plant variety protection data from India clearly shows that even after the adoption of the PPV & FR Act, the private sector in India is engaged in R&D primarily for crops whose floral biology permits the creation of F1 hybrids (e.g. tetraplod cotton, maize, pearl millet). Private sector R&D is almost entirely absent in self-pollinating crops, especially pulses. Accordingly, the passage of the PPV & FR Act has not accomplished its aim of promoting private sector R&D, and those crops that were neglected by private sector (R&D) before the introduction of the Act, continue to be neglected even now.

The PPV & FR Act as well as provisions in UPOV 1978 and similar legislations that support farmer level seed saving (inter alia, for sowing subsequent generations of crops) presume that farmers, if given a choice between saving seeds from a harvest for sowing the next generation, versus buying new (improved) seeds from the market in each subsequent sowing season, would choose to save seeds. Empirical (quantitative) data collected via farmer surveys suggests that this is not true; farmers, when faced with such a choice, choose improved seeds and abandon traditional in situ agrobiodiversity conservation and seed improvement efforts. This choice is guided and encouraged by the seed replacement policy of the government of India. Conservation trends are seen only in crops for which “improved” varieties are not available in the market. This finding calls to question the rationale of provisions codifying the farmers’ privilege, especially when parallel and stronger efforts are underway to encourage farmers’ purchase of formally improved varieties.

National and international (government) policies and laws that are currently supporting private/public (formal) sector R&D and innovation in plant varieties over and above innovation in the informal (farmers’) sector have the effect of excluding farmers from the innovation eco-system. Farmers, that have traditionally been innovators, are rapidly reduced to the status of labourers. Modern, input intensive agriculture that requires farmers to not only buy new seeds, but also pesticides, fertilizers and water to ensure the high performance of these seeds has also left farmers caught in a debt trap, leading, in some regions, to large scale farmer suicides. The innovation environment and eco-system needs therefore to be redesigned with a focus on promoting sustainable innovations, including especially in the informal (farmer) seed sector.

The findings of the book have been taken forward in a project titled “Intellectual Property and Global Develoment” funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. The details of the project are available here.

Re-thinking the ‘Ethics’ in ‘Innovation’: Open Source Research in Social Sciences

Re-thinking the ‘Ethics’ in ‘Innovation’: Open Source Research in Social Sciences

Re-thinking the ‘Ethics’ in ‘Innovation’: Open Source Research in Social Sciences

Dear Everyone

It has been a few months now since the 1st Ethics in Innovation Conference Series, including the World Youth Forum for Ethics in Innovation (WYF 2017) in which 52 students from 29 different countries participated with enormous enthusiasm and commitment. Although the WYF 2017 took a very broad, multi-disciplinary and practical approach to the theme ‘Ethics in Innovation’, it also launched the first of its kind ‘Open Source Research’ platform inviting participation from all student-participants of the WYF, and also the general public. 

Here, I provide you the details of this Open Source Research project that will lead up to a series of blog posts and book publications that will serve as a useful tool for policy makers, lawyers, inventors, educators, corporate leaders and researchers the world over. With this post, I invite all readers to participate! For a background on what the broad overarching goals of the WYF 2017 and the linked Ethics in Innovation conference were, please see the previous posts here and here.

I. General Information

The book resulting from the Open Source Research Project will be a first of its kind multi-disciplinary book looking into the broad topic of Ethics in Innovation from a diversity of view points, spanning a wide range of cultures and disciplines. The focus areas will of course be the same as the 4 main focus areas of the Ethics in Innovation conference and WYF presentations, namely:

1. Innovation
2. Education
3. Corporate Social Responsibility
4. Leadership

Referred to hereinafter as the ‘4 focus points’

We have invited WYF graduates to submit case studies or articles on any one of the above 4 focus points, provided it still links up clearly and concretely to the overarching theme of the WYF/EII conference, namely, promoting ethics in innovation. In this regard, please see point number “II. Research Concept and Key Questions” below.

Editors: As the number of disciplines that the WYF participants all together might be covering is expected to be very diverse, I will put together a panel of expert editors to review any contributions that come in from disciplines other than law, for example, educational research or pure sciences. In relation to the contributions that are linked to the specific research questions of the WYF, I will be the primary editor. However, the larger book, including the contributions from experts, may also have other supporting editors and the publishing house will usually also conduct its own peer review before the final publication. 

I expect to publish the book either with Cambridge University Press, Routledge or Springer. (PLease note: this book project is different from and completely independent of the book project being done by me officially within the scope of my research at Max Planck, which relates primarily with law. Those who are submittind pieces on law will be considered for both books. Those submitting pieces that are not linked with law, will be considered only for this book – The Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition will not be a part of this book project as they do not have the necessary expertise and capacity for editing the volume inhouse. All submitting a piece for this books must first submit a blog post style contribution that will be put on the WYF blog or on this blog to invite public comments. The comments can then be incorporated into the final piece to the extent the author considers necessary. See below for further details.)

II. Research Concept and Key Questions

The research linked with the WYF is the first of its kind ‘Open Source’ type research is the social sciences where the basic research concept, together with research questions and example case studies are made available via an open platform such as a blog. In addition to my own blog (this one), each of you is welcome to submit case studies also on the WYF blog created by the WYF 2017 blog team (please see point “III. Open Platforms for Encouraging Public Engagement” for further information on this). This blog was created with the aim of keeping up the open source nature of the research till the publication of the book (and beyond).

Here is the WYF Blog Link again in case you want to post something right away :

The research linked with the WYF has two main prongs:

1. Fundamental Research Prong: Determining (through well developed case studies) whether the current definition and popular understanding of the term ‘innovation’ is inclusive and culturally sensitive. In other words, whether the definition of innovation (including its usage when preparing documents such as the ‘Global Innovation Index’) is itself ‘ethical’. More details about this prong of the research are available at this link: (please note that the language used here has been deliberately kept as simple, engaging, and non-legal/technical as possible in the light of the large diversity of disciplinary backgrounds and age and experience groups the participants of WYF belonged to. The final contributions will need to use more discipline specific terminology and neutral academic writing style).

2. Practical Research Prong: Identifying (through well developed case studies) ethical issues inherent in current and emerging innovations in the ICT sector.

All contributors are welcome and invited to think about and address these two research prongs in creative ways and not necessarily follow the chain of thought followed in my blog posts or in my or others’ case study examples. For example, you may want to look at these issues from the perspective of whether class room education at the primary level in your country is such that encourages students to also think about culture specific innovations or about innovations that bring forward traditional or cultural knowledge that may otherwise be dying out. From the Indian context, for example, I remember being taught principles of Vedic mathematics in primary school (without it being called Vedic maths), which made it easy for me to make complex calculations really fast. Today, these principles are no longer taught in most primary schools in India – which is perhaps a pity. Yet, principles of Vedic mathematics are now being used to develop complex software algorithms for large machines in order to make them more efficient).

Or, for example, you might want to bring in a case study that shows how algorithms used in social media platforms raise fundamental issues of ethics from the perspective of larger issues of democracy and governance in the 21st century multi-cultural society. 

Or you might come up with a case study (in relation to the practical research prong) on how an ICT innovation in your country effectively addresses a social/cultural issue that has major ethical/moral implications.

In order to keep things somewhat streamlined despite the diversity of approaches and disciplines, you are encouraged to look at these two research prongs and the case studies you formulate, from the perspective of the 4 focus points that you worked on during the WYF and the EII conference. 

Although case study research is a very broad research methodology that allows for variations in focus and breadth depending on the discipline in which the case study is placed, I provide herewith a primer on case study research (see attached). This primer is from the perspective of Educational Research that requires some degree of rigor while preparing case studies – I therefore find it useful as a starting point. However, I encourage you to research case study research examples within your own disciplines before preparing your contributions.

Contributors are required to pay special attention to the following points when compiling your contributions:

1. You are welcome to submit just a case study or a full blown article for the consideration by the editors. However, even in full blown articles, if the starting or central theme is linked to a real life example (e.g. a true case study or a real life news item), it would be very much appreciated as it will then link up nicely to the broad research approach adopted for the WYF research.

2. Please include a detailed segment in your contribution explaining the approach adopted by your for compiling and documenting the case study, citing to relevant literature as applicable and explaining in adequate details any departure from regularly followed norms (if any) in relation to case study research in your discipline. 

3. Please do clearly outline (preferably in the introductory segment of your contribution), how your case study/article links up to either the ‘Fundamental/Practical Research Prong’ described above.

4. Finally, as the aim of the book is to provide concrete guidance to policy makers at the highest level, we request you to make concrete recommendations, justifiable at least within the specific context of your case study, that can be given to policy/law makers who are involved with designing laws or policies associated with any of the 4 focus points. To carry forward my above example from Education, your recommendation might be (to put very simply here for sake of brevity) to make the education system such that does not focus only on ‘modern’ subjects but also imparts knowledge relevant to developing/innovating on traditional knowledge systems that are specific to the country/culture that may be the focal point of your study.

III. Open Platforms for Encouraging Public Engagement

As mentioned, the research is designed as a first of its kind multi-disciplinary ‘open source’ research in social sciences. This research method is what led to the the idea of the WYF blog. The blog created by the WYF blog team in the short span of 2 days is truly an excellent open forum for all of you to constantly contribute your work and thoughts into and engage others too in debate and deliberation in the true spirit of ‘open source’ research. 

We also encourage you to continue to use the hashtags #EthicsinInnovation and #WorldYouthForum2017 to promote any new content that is posted on either of the blogs, on various social media platforms – this is a wonderful way to engage your friends and colleagues in an open discussion on the views you post on the blog. All contributors can also post contributions in their own blogs and send us a link so we can publish the links on the WYF blog and this blog. 

IV. Writing Style and Final Output

Please use neutral academic writing style and avoid writing styles that are more close to journalistic approaches when preparing your contribution to the book. (Please note, however, that in your blog posts, the journalistic approach may be more effective in winning public interest and engagement. Even in the blog posts, however, I suggest providing links at appropriate places, as footnoting is not convenient or attractive in blog posts).

Also, we request that all contributions to be considered for the book follow this style and page limit:

1. Case studies: 8-12 typed pages (single spacing), including all footnotes, 12 font size, times new roman (footnotes can be in font size 10)
Articles: 15-25 typed pages (single spacing) including all footnotes, 12 font size, times new roman (footnotes can be in font size 10)

2. Please use footnotes, not endnotes and use OSCOLA referencing style as the guide for footnoting. OSCOLA can be downloaded here:

V. Deadline for submission

Please submit an extended abstract (1000-1500 words) of your piece by 15th November 2017 to
Please submit the final and complete contribution by 15th January 2018 to

Please watch this space for updates linked to the project! 

Late submissions may not be considered for inclusion in the book.

Re-thinking the ‘Ethics’ in ‘Innovation’

Re-thinking the ‘Ethics’ in ‘Innovation’

Re-thinking the ‘Ethics’ in ‘Innovation’

How do laws and policies aimed at promoting and disseminating beneficial innovations define the terms ‘beneficial’ and ‘innovation’? Do these definitions ensure equitable socio-economic development of all countries based on their culture-specific innovations? In other words, are these definitions themselves fundamentally ‘ethical’? These are some of the questions that the selected top 60 students from over 20 different countries across the globe will discuss in the forthcoming World Youth Forum for Ethics in Innovation (WYF 2017). The intensive three day workshop will see these top 60 students and young professionals go through a state of the art self-management and leadership training, and discuss some of the most pressing issues relating to ethics and innovation that affect the 21st century global village. The students will discuss case studies from their own countries/cultures and arrive at high level recommendations for academics, industry and top governmental representatives in the form of the ‘Call of the Youth’ that will be presented by three groups of students during the 1st Munich Conference Series on Ethics in Innovation (EII Conference) at the DPMAforum, German Patent and Trade Mark Office, Munich on 26-27 June 2017. Those who couldn’t make it to the World Youth Forum, are invited to register for the EII conference at this link.

Here are some of my thoughts on the issue of ‘ethics’, ‘innovation’, ‘ethical innovations’, and most importantly, the ‘ethics in innovation’. These thoughts are part of the research project linked to the WYF 2017. WYF 2017 participants, as well as anyone else interested in the issue of ethics in innovation, are encouraged to read these and provide comments so as to facilitate in-depth discussion of topics during the WYF and the EII conference. 

What is considered ‘ethical’ and ‘innovative’ varies from person to person, culture to culture, and even from industry to industry. This difference in perception may, at first glance, seem to be of interest only from a purely academic perspective. In reality, however, it plays a crucial and practical role in ensuring a healthy and balanced public debate, which, in the end, can influence all segments of human life, including the approach to education, the focus of scientific research efforts, the availability of funds for such research, the framework of laws and policies, and even the flow of capital at the level of societies, communities, countries and regions. 

In fact, despite widespread globalization, even in the 21st century, it is not corporate profits alone that drive the direction and success of any socio-economic activity, including ‘innovation’. Diverse ethical views, including socio-cultural norms, social or individual history and the historical evolution of world views predominant in various regions of the world, all play a significant role in determining the direction and goals of such activities/innovations within the societies or communities where they emerge on the one hand, and the manner in which they are viewed, disseminated and adopted around the globe, on the other. 

In this situation, it is relevant to examine whether all types of socio-economic activities and linked material and immaterial products and processes, emerging from diverse socio-cultural and socio-economic contexts, are all equitably recognized as ‘innovation’ at all. Whether it is by common people or by international agencies engaged either in law making or in ranking countries and societies (for example, on an innovation index), such recognition (or its absence) can have far reaching consequences. These consequences may include an impact (positive or negative) on the economic growth of nations where these products/processes emerge, availability of venture or seed capital for their promotion, dissemination and widespread adoption, availability of funds to conduct scientific research on such products/processes, as well as on the overall morale of people engaged in creation of beneficial products/processes that are historically unique to their societies and cultures. Put together, such consequences can either expand or limit the diversity of choices available for people in the global marketplace. 
Furthermore, if ethical issues and dominant world views emerging therefrom, broadly speaking, guide the formulation of laws and policies associated, inter alia, with testing, adopting, disseminating, using and even patenting of certain types of innovations, to the exclusion of others, it also becomes necessary to re-think what is ‘ethical’ from a multi-cultural and fundamentally ‘human’ perspective. 

With the increasing confluence of diverse cultures through immigration, job hunts and growing frequency of inter-cultural marriages, it is necessary to re-think the fundamental understanding that we as a human society have of the terms ‘innovation’ and ‘ethics’ as such, and of their relationship with one another in narratives employed at national and international debates linked with the term ‘innovation’. 

Research Goals: (i) Re-thinking the definition of ‘innovation’ and ‘ethical innovations’ in the present day multi-cultural global village. (ii) Identifying means of promoting inclusive, sustainable and ethical innovations among all sections and segments of society worldwide by examining (through case studies, surveys and empirical research) means by which products, services and processes that are beneficial to humankind have (historically and contemporarily) been created and disseminated in diverse cultural and socio-economic contexts. (iii) Investigating whether all such products/processes/services are recognized as ‘innovation’ by the societies in which they emerge on the one hand, and by the world in general on the other. 

Comments, current research, news links, blog articles and anything else that helps add to, contradict or enrich the above research goals would be much appreciated – please use the comments segment below.

Natural Farming Summit 1.0

Natural Farming Summit 1.0

Natural Farming Summit 1.0

In July last year, Prof. Gregory Radick of the University of Leeds and I designed a research project to study the innovativeness among Indian farmers engaged in natural/organic farming and the role that intellectual property (broadly and narrowly defined, as per Prof. Radick’s theoretical framework on IP-Broad and IP-Narrow) plays in this process. The research was designed to take forward Prof. Radick’s work, as well as my work in the field of promoting sustainable innovations in plant varieties (see my research on the topic, available here). The project named the International Art of Living Foundation as its NGO partner and sought to hire a post-doctoral research fellow, to be jointly supervised by Prof. Radick (at the University of Leeds) and me (at the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition) who would conduct the necessary study, including field work, in India over the course of approximately one year. The project received funding from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council in November last year. The research has started since January this year after we were fortunate enough to find a brilliant young post-doctoral researcher – Dr. Natalie Kopytko, for the study. Natalie is currently in India and is conducting field studies with support from the Art of Living Foundation in several remote areas on India. We are all looking forward to her research findings – updates can be found on the website she maintains here.

In the mean time, the Art of Living decided to organize its annual conference on organic farming (Natural Farming Summit) in early May this year. This proved to be perfect timing for our project as it coincided with Natalie’s field work kick off. The Art of Living foundation, whose work I have been observing and following for over a decade now (and with whom I did a couple of yoga teacher training courses) also invited us to make presentations on our research during the summit. After the conference, I (and other speakers) were interviewed by the Art of Living Bureau of Communications (ABC). I reproduce the text of the interview hereunder: 

From the Art of Living Bureau of Communications:

Agricultural Summit on Natural Farming:

The Natural Farming Summit 1.0, organized by the Art of Living Foundation was held on 9th and 10th May 2017 at the Art of Living International Centre, Bangalore. The summit brought together a diverse set of stakeholders engaged in natural and organic farming, and associated sectors of work at both practical and policy levels. The two day summit saw these stakeholders sharing their experiences, research findings and policy recommendations with a rich audience comprising of farmers, distributors, business houses, academic experts, policy makers and NGOs. 
The conference participants re-emphasized the benefits of natural farming, including its impact on individual health, quality of soil, improved financial status of farmers and many more. World renowned activist Dr. Vandana Shiva ji, founder of the NGO “Navdanya” also shared her thoughts on how farming which is aligned to nature is the only means of maintaining biodiversity, which is the most urgent need of the hour.

Dr. Mrinalini Kochupillai:

Forums like the Natural Farming Summit are an opportunity to bring together various stakeholders who share a common vision and goal, namely to make the agricultural sector sustainable and prosperous from an ecological, as well as economic perspective. One of our international speakers from Germany was Dr. Mrinalini Kochupillai, who has a masters and doctoral degree in intellectual property law, with special focus on Indian plant variety protection law and policy. According to Mrinalini ji, “practical solutions at the farm level need support at the research and policy level to ensure that socio-economic benefits flow to farmers.” She said that “the farmers of this country have always been innovators – it is unfortunate that following the Green Revolution, the role of farmers was reduced to mere technology takers who sow and harvest crops. In order to re-establish and re-define the role of farmers in the agricultural sector, it is necessary to remind farmers that traditionally, they have always been innovators on the farm – improving traditional seeds in situ and improvising means of maintaining soil health, while also managing pests in an eco-friendly and sustainable manner.” In relation to her current research, Mrinalini Ji said:

[blockquote align=”none” author=”Dr. Mrinalini Kochupillai“]We feel that the work of farmers who are engaged in natural farming using traditional varieties of seeds improved and preserved in situ, is not recognized as innovation. In fact, their work and role in maintaining and enhancing germplasm reserves while ensuring sustainable high yield and nutritive content in the food, has not even been adequately researched!.”[/blockquote] The research project, designed jointly by Prof. Gregory Radick of the University of Leeds and Dr. Mrinalini Kochupillai, which received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Government of UK in November last year, is perhaps the first qualitative, empirical study into:

(1)Seed exchange and seed saving culture among Indian farmers and how it affects innovation at farmer level;
(2) how the Indian government’s seed replacement policy affects innovativeness among Indian farmers;
(3) the manner in which the Indian Plant Variety Protection law affects in situ agrobiodiversity conservation; and
(4) the relationship between the above and (a) the growing crisis in international agriculture, including (b) suicides by Indian farmers and (c) dwindling number of young people willing to take up a way of life seen as menial labour 

Using the funds received, the University of Leeds has engaged a highly qualified post-doctoral research fellow, Dr. Natalie Kopytko, to study innovation among farmers in India, especially farmers who have received training in Zero Budget Farming from the Art of Living, farmers who have won the genome savior community recognition award by the Government of India, and farmers that are engaged in conventional farming using modern seeds.” Mrinalini ji‘s five year long empirical study on the Indian Plant Variety Protection Law and associated governmental policies, conducted as part of her Ph.D. research with MPI, established the basis for this joint research with the University of Leeds. Her research was published by Springer Nature in Max Planck’s Munich Studies on Innovation & Competition series. 

Global scenario:

Mrinalini ji shared her thoughts on the scenario in India and the world regarding agricultural technologies, especially new and improved seeds. She said that since the Green Revolution, farmers in India are relying on Universities and large corporations to provide them improved seeds and improved agricultural technology. Undoubtedly, the green revolution increased crop yields in some crops. What policy makers in India have failed to pay adequate attention to, however, is that the green revolution as well as most formal innovations coming from the private sector focus only on specific crops. Food security for the nation and for the globe, however, does not depend on high yield alone, but also on a divserse diet rich in micronutrients, minerals and vitamins that cannot be provided by staple crops such as wheat and rice that the green revolution focussed on. Also, the green revolution made farmers not only reliant on new improved seeds, but also on expensive fertilizers and chemical pesticides that modern science has shown to be extremely damaging to the environment. Indeed, under the green revolution, only few types of seeds were artificially designed to “perform” under the influence of chemical fertilizers. As a result, soils and farmlands where these fertilizers are regularly used, see drop in the yields of other crops whose seeds are not designed to tolerate chemical inputs. The entire strategy for food security and sustainable innovations in seeds therefore needs to be re-thought. 

Furthermore, reliance on green revolution and modern “hybrid” seeds that require farmers to replace their seeds each season (by buying new seeds from the marker) is harmful for farmers’ socio-economic status in society. Farmers who are potentially entrepreneurs and innovators, their status in society is reduced to that of laborers that merely sow seeds created by others, harvest crops and sell the yield to make a living. “Our farmers have to go back to the times when they were technology makers, rather than mere technology takers.” She emphasized that “India doesn’t only have religious and cultural diversity – India also has incredible geographic, climatic, biotic and abiotic diversity. If we give this diversity the importance that it deserves, and make our research local, we can export agricultural technology (including seeds, and sustainable pest and soil management technology) to every agro-climatic zone in the world!” She insisted, however, that “India and Indian farmers must stop giving or expecting anything for free. If we are ourselves developing indigenous, ecologically sustainable high yielding seeds of a large number of diverse crops, we also need to be economically aware enough to charge a proper price for it. India’s economic development would then not be dependent on obtaining foreign technology as charity, but on exporting high quality, eco-friendly technology at fair and reasonable price to the rest of the world.” Mrinalini ji shared with our team that she is also inspired by Art of Living founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Ji’s vision of “creating wealth” for all. She said that “we have to use our own traditional systems and traditional values of innovation to create wealth for our farmers and provide food security to the whole world. Any effort or emphasis placed in trying to bring us foreign, non-sustainable technology at cheap rates is not going to help India become economically strong in the long run. Only indigenous, high quality, appropriately priced innovation can bring back India’s lost prosperity. We have to create wealth for ourselves and for the world by using our own intellectual property. Then, those technologies that are developed (and patented) elsewhere, which complement and support our indigenous innovations (e.g. innovations in the digital age) can also be used more meaningfully by our farmer-innovators for further mutually beneficial wealth creation. 

The larger project, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council also seeks to determine the history of India’s ‘Seed Replacement Policy’ and whether farmer to farmer seed exchange was, is, or should be included within this policy. The research project takes forward Dr. Mrinalini Kochupillai’s PhD research in the field of promoting sustainable innovations in plant varieties and Prof. Gregory Radick’s theoretical and conceptual work on Intellectual Property over the long-run of the history of science, and seeks to learn from Art of Living’s vast practical and on-farm work with farmers across the length and breadth of India. Mrinalini ji shared that the innovative potential of the Indian farming community if already clear from the presentations made at the Natural Farming Summit. She said that she got a lot of interesting and insightful information about Indian methods of natural farming and the work of the farming community. “The work and what has been accomplished despite difficult and adverse legal/policy environments is commendable! A truly enriching and eye opening experience!” she said.

Sudarshan Kriya: It is not ‘just Yoga’, it is innovation from India! 

“It is a wonder that when 50% of the Indian population is engaged in agriculture or allied activities, agriculture and allied sectors are contributing less than 14% to the Indian GDP. To increase agriculture’s contribution to the Indian GDP, on the international level, Indian farmers can and must become technology makers & know-how suppliers,” remarked Mrinalini ji during her presentation at the Natural Farming Summit. Drawing a parallel with Sudarshan Kriya, she said that “In my view, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji is not only a humanitarian leader, but also an innovator. He has created, packaged and disseminated the highly beneficial traditional knowledge based innovation, Sudarshan Kriya, to more than 150 countries around the globe.” ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ is not protected by patent, the name is protected by trade mark and the tapes are protected by copyright. Copyright is considered a relatively weak form of intellectual property protection. Yet, using incredible skill, together with what can be considered the highest form of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’, Indian innovators like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar have brought the economic benefits accruing from the dissemination of Sudarshan Kriya back to India and to other poor countries of the world – supporting important river rejuvenation projects, organic farming projects, projects for building homes for the poor and many other socially oriented projects. This is the goal that every Indian farmer-innovator should aspire to. We should stop adjudging profit making enterprises as greedy and stop glorifying poverty.” In relation to Sudarshan Kriya, Mrinalini ji said that the variety of projects of global significance that have taken a license to teach Sudarshan Kriya is mind boggling! Yet, India has itself failed to see technologies like Sudarshan Kriya that are widely researched in top scientific institutions around the globe, as Indian innovations! Such innovations based in Indian traditional knowledge ought also to be taken into account by the United Nations or the World Intellectual Property Organization, when they create country rankings for indices such as the Global Innovation Index.

The Munich Conference Series on “Ethics in Innovation: Innovation 4.0 

Mrinalini ji said that “in fact, not just India, but all nations across the world need to re-consider their own approach to identifying, promoting and beneficially disseminating innovations that are unique to their cultures. Encouraging culture specific innovations would not only bring equitable economic development to all nations, but would also increase the choice and diversity available for the citizens of the 21st century multi-cultural global village. This, in fact, is one of the aims with which we are organizing the World Youth Forum for Ethics in Innovation.” According to the write up provided to us by Mrinalini ji, “the fundamental research projects associated with the World Youth Forum for Ethics in Innovation is designed to engage the student participants of the World Youth Forum in multi-disciplinary & multi-cultural discussion to consider three questions that are of significant concern in our increasingly diverse, 21st century global village:

1. How individuals from different cultures, countries & educational background understand the terms ‘ethics’ & ‘innovation’
2. What in their opinion, constitutes an ‘ethical innovation’, including whether a re-assessment is necessary of the manner in which the term ‘innovation’ as currently defined & understood is culturally, socially & economically inclusive.
3. How existing laws, policies & practices can/should be modified to promote ‘ethical innovations’.”

Conferences like these add great value to global knowledge reserves and showcase innovations from different cultures, regions and sectors. We highly encourage everyone to participate in the 1st Ethics in Innovation Conference Series in Munich from 23-27th June 2017.

The research linked with the World Youth Forum 2017 is now being taken forward by Mrinalini ji as a first of its kind open source social science research project. All students, professionals, experts and interested people are encouraged to participate. For more information, see here.

1st Munich Conference Series on Ethics in Innovation

1st Munich Conference Series on Ethics in Innovation

1st Munich Conference Series on Ethics in Innovation

After a long break, I am excited to inform you that the Max Planck Institute for Innovation & Competition and the World Forum for Ethics in Business, in partnership with the German Patent & Trade Mark Office, the Peter Löscher Chair of Business Ethics at the Technical University of Munich, and the European Patent Office, are organizing a series of conferences titled the ‘Munich Conference Series on Ethics in Innovation.’ The 1st Conference Series on Ethics in Innovation comprises two segments: 

1. The World Youth Forum for Ethics in Innovation (WYF 2017) from 23-25 June 2017 (hosted by the Max Planck Institute for Innovation & Competition, Munich); and
2. The multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder conference on Ethics in Innovation (EII Conference) from 26-27 June 2017 (hosted by the German Patent and Trade Mark Office, Munich)

We invite the readers of Spicy IP, including students and young IP professionals from around the globe to apply for and participate in either or both of these events. An overview of the conference concept and all relevant links are provided below. 

Introduction & Concept

What is considered ‘ethical’ and ‘innovative’ varies from person to person, culture to culture, and even from industry to industry. This difference in perception may, at first glance, seem to be of interest only from a purely academic perspective. In reality, however, it plays a crucial and practical role in ensuring a healthy and balanced public debate, which, in the end, can influence all segments of human life, including the approach to education, the focus of scientific research efforts, the framework of laws and policies, and even the flow of capital at the level of societies, communities, countries and regions. 

It is perhaps no wonder, therefore, that despite widespread globalization, even in the 21st century, it is not corporate profits alone that drive the direction and success of an innovation. Diverse ethical views, including socio-cultural norms, social or individual history and the historical evolution of world views predominant in various regions of the world, all play a significant role in determining the direction and goals of innovation in various societies or communities on the one hand, and the manner in which these innovations are viewed, disseminated and used around the globe, on the other. 

Ethical issues and dominant world views emerging therefrom, broadly speaking, may often also guide the adoption of laws and regulations associated, inter alia, with testing, adopting, disseminating, using and even patenting of certain types of innovations, to the exclusion of others. Yet, in the 21st century global village, with the confluence of diverse cultures through immigration, job hunts and growing frequency of inter-cultural marriages, it is necessary to re-think the fundamental understanding that we as a human society have of the terms ‘innovation’ and ‘ethics’ as such, and of their relationship with one another in narratives employed at national and international debates linked with innovation. 

Structure & Topics

The first Munich Conference on Ethics in Innovation therefore asks several fundamental questions that cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries and calls for an open, multi-disciplinary, and multi-stakeholder discussion of these fundamental questions. Day 1 of the conference outlines the most fundamental questions of ethics and innovation from the perspective of disciplines and discourses that affects all segments of human life. The questions considered on Day 1 of the conference include, but are not limited to, the following: ‘Is there a ‘common minimum’ ethical value system that binds us as a human society? What are the socio-cultural and economic consequences, if any, of labelling certain material and immaterial creations as ‘innovations’ and not others? What role do ethical concerns play in the life and work of those engaged in some of the most groundbreaking innovations? What approaches to education can help nurture both ethical and innovative outlooks in individuals from diverse cultures? In what circumstances can people of one culture accept and embrace innovations from other cultures? Can such acceptance lead to greater communal harmony and secular yet economically prosperous living? Can innovations in the digital age serve to bring diverse cultures closer together in a democratic and secular framework? Is there a need to regulate innovations that might have an opposite effect?

Day 2 focuses on issues of ethics and innovation in a specific field, namely, information and communication technologies, including means of promoting equitable and inclusive innovations in the ICT sector globally. The discussions will look into diverse issues from a multi-disciplinary perspective and consider how ethics in innovation can be promoted by, inter alia, providing equitable access to venture and seed capital funding, promoting innovations in the digital field that are supportive of larger societal goals (such as democracy, peace, sustainability and inter-cultural harmony), determining the means/need of regulating content in online media, discussing issues of ethics linked to the cutting edge innovations in the field of artificial intelligence and the internet of thigs, and re-assessing means inclusive and exclusive of traditional intellectual property protection regimes to promote, recognize and disseminate innovations emerging from diverse socio-cultural and economic contexts. 

To ensure a rich multi-cultural and multi-stakeholder discussion of these issues, engaging experts as well as students and young professionals from diverse disciplinary fields from across the globe, the first Munich Conference Series on Ethics in Innovation is split into two segments: 
• The World Youth Forum for Ethics in Innovation (WYF 2017) from 23-25 June 2017, at the Max Planck Institute for Innovation & Competition, Munich. For more information on the concept and program of WYF 2017, please visit 
• The multi-stakeholder conference on Ethics in Innovation (EII Conference) from 26-27 June 2017, at the German Patent and Trade Mark Office, Munich. 

The deadline to apply for the World Youth Forum for Ethics in Innovation is 10th May 2017. The top 5 applicants will receive a scholarship from the Max Planck Institute for Innovation & Competition, covering flight and accommodation expenses for the duration of the forum and conference. 

For more information, email Camille Abgrall at 

For more information on the Ethics in Innovation Conference Series and its research goals, contact Dr. Mrinalini Kochupillai: