UH agrees to give up 3 patents on taro
Native Hawaiians are determining which entity will receive the patents
The University of Hawaii announced yesterday that it will give three patents on genetically enhanced, crossbred taro plants to native Hawaiians.
Discussions were under way within the Hawaiian community to determine the appropriate entity to receive the patents, UH officials said.
Native Hawaiian activists, farmers and students have held protests demanding the university give up the patents and stop genetically altering taro, which many Hawaiians consider a sacred plant.
"The University of Hawaii has a strong desire to maintain appropriate respect and sensitivity to the indigenous Hawaiian host culture," said UH-Manoa Vice Chancellor for Research Gary Ostrander.
"Taro is unique to the Hawaiian people in that it represents the embodiment of their sacred ancestor," he said. "As such, it is appropriate to make an exception to our standard policy of holding all patents."
Sarah Sullivan of Hawaii Seed, one of the groups involved in the taro protests, said there are still concerns over the concept of "patenting life."
"A major issue is that culturally significant plants such as taro should not be owned," Sullivan said. She added that she also has concerns about who gets the university patents.
The patents arose from work conducted by a university faculty member in the 1990s to help Samoan taro growers whose crops were hard hit by a leaf blight.
Plants from Hawaii and Palau were crossbred producing three strains that were shown to have increased disease resistance. The patents were granted in 2002.
Farmers using the patented taro varieties are required to pay licensing fees to the university if they are running a business, according to Cy Hu, associate dean of the university's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
Star-Bulletin reporter Craig Gima contributed to this report.