The new jurisdiction for bioprospecting will be crucial for the prosperity of the Norwegian welfare state

That is Ruralis researcher Frode Flemsæter’s analysis of the role of rights in the bioeconomy. Flemsæter draws parallels between the management of marine biological materials, and Norway’s management of its oil rights.

– Currently there is considerable research being conducted into the utilization of biological material, such as algae, to produce medicines, cosmetics, food and so on. Any breakthrough in this area could have huge economic potential, but if the public is to benefit from it, it is important to implement a system that provides revenue for the Norwegian government. While the Norwegian oil resource is structured to generate state income, there is currently no similar means of income generation from the commercialisation of biological resources. How we chose to structure the bioprospecting industry will have huge implications for the transition of the bioeconomy in Norway, says Flemsæter.

Power relations

Flemsæter will analyze the regulatory proposals for bioprospecting from 2013 and 2017 respectively.

– The public hearing for the proposal for bioprospecting held in 2013 was subject to heavy criticism. Subsequently, the government presented a new proposal in 2017, which was considerably less ambitious. Currently I am working on a discourse analysis, which is studying the arguments, actors and ideologies that have influenced the new draft, by comparing the two proposals, Flemsæter explains.

Billion kroner industry

The discourse analysis is a part of the work package exploring the role of rights in the bio economy.

– Specifically we are looking into rights in the marine area. The bioeconomy aims to utilize biological resources in new ways. However, the legal system does not necessarily support this aim in an optimal way today, and this could hamper the bioeconomy’s development. The shortcomings apply to both material and immaterial rights. For example, if someone collects a bucket of water from the Arctic with algae containing enzymes resulting in a breakthrough in cancer treatment, the commericalisaiton opportunities would be considerable. While the path from collection to commercialization is a long one, breakthroughs originating from this bucket are potentially billion kroner industries. How we treat the material rights represented by the algae, and the immaterial rights related to the knowledge developed during the research process, has huge implications for Norway. Who owns the algae required for producing this medicine is one central question. Another important question is whether the samples should be available to just the people that collected it, or if it they should be included in a bank of biological material, available to other researchers and companies, observes Flemsæter.