3 minute read

For some background, I highly recommend Alanna Shaikh’s post here: https://aidwatchers.com/2010/04/the-plumpy%E2%80%99nut-dustup/ and follow-up here: https://aidwatchers.com/2010/05/the-plumpy%E2%80%99nut-dust-up-nutriset%E2%80%99s-side-of-the-story/comment-page-1/#comment-12035 . In short, a French company is defending their patent on a super-nutritious “therapeutic” food called Plumpy’nut against a lawsuit by some US NGOs (who could have licensed it, but are instead trying to break the patent)

My guy reaction was anti-intellectual property, as I strongly believe that our current IP schemes tend to do more damage than good. That being said, I think Nutriset is seemingly doing the right thing here - forcing support for local production. Let us presume nothing but sparkly, unicorn-bedazzled thoughts about Nutriset for a moment:

Goal 1: Provide a therapeutic food product Goal 2: Ensure quality standards (duh) Goal 3: Make it widely available and politically tenable to “recipient” governments Goal 4: Don’t make things worse locally by undercutting the economy

You could open the patent, post the ingredients and production methods and encourage everyone to go after it. This would support goals 1,3 and 4, with a risk of opportunists really wrecking #2, anyone could claim that they were using the authentic plumpynut recipe even while their product is unhealthy at best or outright deadly at worst.

You could let other aid entities share in the patent and re-create the product with various quality assurances and fix #2, but almost assuredly lose #4 - many aid organizations have responsibilities to source their supplies from their country of origin in various tied-aid policies. These might actually lower the raw cost of the product (thanks to various subsidies), but also risk putting local farmers out of business.

So by licensing their technology to focused, local producers, Nutriset seems to meet all four goals - they get a say in quality, make governments happy, and actually create a new market for regional farmers (possibly – hopefully even – only temporarily, but that’s better than destroying their market, where ‘temporarily’ tends to mean ‘permanently.’