Germany, Bayer and Patents.

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In early September Hubs and I kissed Silas and the cows goodbye and headed to Dusseldorf, Germany for 5 days. I had been invited by Bayer CropScience to attend “The Future of Farming Dialog” at their Global Headquarters along with a group of bloggers from around the globe and I scraped together enough frequent flier points to cover Hubs’ plane ticket so he could come along. After the year we’ve had we were in desperate need of a little down time and Germany seemed like a good place to check out.

It turns out Germany is a lot like Wisconsin, in case you were wondering. Considering about 44% of Wisconsinites report having German ancestry, the similarities weren’t exactly shocking.

We flew into Germany the day before the conference started and after catching a nap we visited the Altstadt and had dinner. The next morning we rented a car and went wandering. Of course we found a dairy farm and stopped to check it out.

The conference itself was interesting, they started it off by telling us that they would NOT be addressing any questions on the Monsanto purchase (the week after we got home, the purchase was officially announced). The topics covered at the conference were pretty wide ranging and showed the company is forward thinking. But the conference itself was only part of the trip and what I found the most interesting is what I learned when our group of bloggers toured their actual laboratories.

Bayer Future of Farming Conference.

The opening of the Future of Farming Dialog at Bayer Headquarters.

The facility we toured was in Monheim am Rhein, Germany and is the company’s Crop Science headquarters. Crop science is a fancy descriptor meaning this is the place where they research and develop products that help protect crops, such as pesticides, herbicides, fungicides.

I’ll be the first to admit, I know a lot more about cows than I do crops. Touring a lab where they research, develop and test potential new products was fascinating to me. I’d love to show you photos of how they carefully apply new combinations of ingredients to plants to test their potential to stop bugs from destroying a crop or test a potential herbicide’s effect on a non-targeted plant but that part of the tour was a “no photos please” area. Proprietary technology is a legit reason to not allow random bloggers to take millions of photos. You’ll just have to take my word that the greenhouses where they do their testing are really neat.

 

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Our scientist turned tour guide explaining all the steps it takes to develop a new insecticide.

 

After our greenhouse tour, we spent some time in an area set up for tours (where photos were allowed!) and got to hear more about the layers and layers of testing that goes on before a new crop protection product is released.

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Aphids are nasty bugs that can do major damage to plants. Bayer is working on developing new ways to control aphids on crops.

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While many people would expect Bayer’s labs to look like something from a horror movie, these specimen jars were the only slightly creepy thing I found.

The language might not be the same on the sign but the bugs look the same.

The language might not be the same on the sign but the bugs look the same.

You’ve probably heard of a product called RoundUp. It’s an herbicide that anyone can walk into any hardware/garden/home store and buy for killing weeds around their house. It’s also a product that farmers use to kill weeds in their fields. Bayer doesn’t manufacture RoundUp, but I mention it because while many people have heard of RoundUp, they haven’t heard of glyphosate and Bayer does make glyphosate. RoundUp and glyphosate are actually the same product. However, RoundUp is the brand name and glyphosate is the generic name. That’s right, just like Cheerio’s vs Toasted O’s, even in the world of weed killer there are brand names and generic equivalents.

The idea of brand name vs generic is nothing new to many of us. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if there are patents on name brand cereals, but I do know that the medicine I take every day to help me manage my ADD is a name brand and because of patents there is no cheaper generic version of the specific medicine I take, that I can buy. As a farmer I am pretty familiar with patents and contracts that cover the GMO technology in the seeds we buy and plant. What I didn’t know until this tour is why patents were about more than a company making as much money as possible.

Scratch that… patents are about a company making as much money as possible off of a product but I now have a better idea of why patents are important.

Seeds with a crop protectant coating.

Seeds with a crop protectant coating.

A few facts about what it takes for a company like Bayer to bring a new product to market-

  1. It takes about 8 years from the time a scientist develops a potential new product for it to actually get to the production phase.
  2. After a potential product is developed it takes 3-4 more years for it to pass regulation and for a company to be able to actually sell the product.
  3. A patent is good for 20 years from the time the product is first identified. That means with the 8 years of testing and 3-4 years it takes for it to pass all the regulations, a company only has about 8 years left of protection from the patent.
  4. They don’t just hand out patents like candy. If a specific combination has been described in literature at any time in the past, even if it’s never been tested, that product cannot be patented.
  5. Bayer tests about 150,000 different compounds a year. Only 65% of those move on to a testing stage.
  6. It costs approximately $212 million dollars for a company like Bayer to develop a new product.

If I owned a business that had to spend 10+ years and crazy amounts of money just to develop a single product and only had 10 years to recoup my investment before other companies could start making the same product, for cheaper because they didn’t have to do all the work my company did, I’d file for a patent too.

I learned a lot from this trip. Of course, I still have questions and I am not an expert in all things Bayer or crops or Germany but I do feel like I have a better understanding of parts of each of these things and I thankful that I can share what I’ve learned with you.

 

Bayer paid for my travel expenses to attend this conference. I was not compensated for writing this post and as always, all thoughts and views are my own.

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