Biotech in Thailand: How patents can change a developing nation. – by “Alexander F”

With the ever-increasing controversy and importance of biotech patents here in the United States, the biotech patent world outside of this country gets forgotten sometimes. While biotech is only one small component of the patent application pool each year in America, there are some nations in the world where Biotech patents are surging ahead as one of the principle patent application types. One important example of a nation such as this is Thailand.

Having only the 33rd largest economy in the world, Thailand has been boasting one of the most robust and explosive biotechnology patent growths of the past decade. These types of patents, which are usually extremely difficult and expensive to develop, have been seen by Thailand’s government as a ticket to becoming a world player with serious international clout and economic influence. Despite the meager economic strength when compared to other biotech powerhouses like the US and Japan, Thailand’s government has encouraged the filing of of biotech patents in Thailand with substantial monetary incentives. Taking some lead from Singapore’s great biotech success, the patent growth in Thailand was initially funded by direct government investment in state-of-the art research facilities to attract foreign researchers and businesses. The attractive facilities, tax incentives, and internationally aligned patent policies soon brought in foreign investment and development.

This shift has been reflected in numerous ways on Thailand. The country now sits third behind the US and Japan in terms of estimated biotech patents, and biotech enjoys a much larger ratio of the overall Thai patent application pool than either of the two leading nations. These patents have been in a wide variety of biotech fields but two of the most striking are agricultural biotech patents, and, of course, drug patents. On the agricultural side, the now great success has been with their genetically modified resistant rice. This helped the Thai agricultural economy expand rapidly and has made Thailand the largest exporter of rice in the world. Beyond this, Thailand is one of only five nations in the world with net food exports. This transformation into an agricultural powerhouse has had a ripple effect by also increasing employment rapidly and consuming land in the nation so that today, over 50% of the arable land in Thailand is used for rice production.

The drug advancements have also been extraordinary in the past few years. Major investments from foreign pharmaceutical corporations have made many of the drug patents be held by foreigners, but thankfully the Thai patent laws graciously allow this especially for biotech patents. The success of the drug patent development came last year, when the World Health Organization approved Thailand as a principle producer of the H1N1 Flu Virus vaccine.

The implications of this success may serve as a lesson, or prediction perhaps, for the future of biotech patent law around the world. In Thailand, a developing nation, the government adjusted and augmented patent law to encourage biotech patent growth. This expensive yet high-value growth, in turn, added substantially to Thailand’s economy and world significance. Other nations in Southeast Asia and further abroad may try to follow suit and encourage patent regulation in manners similarly to Thailand. This could be a new key stepping stone for developing nations to not only harness their natural resources, but also their intellectual ones in order to gain world standing and economic expansion.

While it is unclear if there is an overall causation for the economic growth here to be found in the increased number of biotech patent filings, the correlation is striking. The theoretical power of relatively few biotech patents being able to jump start an agricultural economy en masse is undoubt an exciting prospect for the development of biotech patent law and its influence on the developing world.

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