Hawai’i taro patent controversy In the s nearly all taro in Samoa died out due to leaf blight. Samoan people came to University of Hawaii (UH) faculty member for help. A Researcher collected taro from Hawaii and Palau to create new varieties which showed leaf blight resistance. UH filed fora plant patent on the 3 strains into prevent other people using them without permission. A licensing agreement was established whereby commercial taro growers would pay US$2/seedling to cover UH costs. Growers could use strains for 3 years gratis. After that period they would pay 3% of profits. There was no charge for private use. Commercial growers had to agree to UH personnel entering their property to ascertain that they were not illegally breeding UH’s property.
95 Farmers criticised UH’s patented varieties, which were developed by simple crossbreeding. Hawaiians say they have practiced crossbreeding for centuries and never patented the progeny. The patenting of the concept of improved bacterial blight resistance resulted in a series of protests by farmers and others concerned about the cultural, environmental and economic aspects of taro research. In 2006 two farmers wrote to UH demanding that the university give up its patents. In Hawaiian culture nothing is considered more sacred than kalo (taro. Wakea, the sky father and Ho’ohokukalani, gave birth to Haloa, the firstborn, Haloa grew into kalo, the first taro plant. Their second born was man, whose destiny was to care for Haloa. Taking care of kalo, the Hawaiians prospered for over a millennia, during which time their land and water given by the gods were managed by their chiefs for the benefit of all. The concept of landownership was introduced by Western settlers and business in 1848. Hawaiians refer to the subsequent period as the Mahele’ when foreigners took over their land and carved it upturning the gift from the gods into private property. Hawaiians saw the patenting of taro strains as a second ‘Mahele’ as it removed taro from the collective care of Hawaiians and gave it to UH. In 2006, UH filed a terminal disclaimer for the three patents, meaning that it would no longer make claims on the patents and the taro strains were free for anyone to use. Source The Taro Patent Controversy, Kauana Magazine www.kauana.com/Default.aspx?tabid=93 ; The Role of Taro in Hawaiian Culture, Molokai Island Times, 2006 www.friendsoftobi.org/misc/research/tarohawaii.htm