Innovations are hugely significant not only for society, but also for science-based companies. They are frequently one of the most important competitive factors.
In many cases, it takes many years and the investment of many millions of euros to achieve a breakthrough development. Developing an innovative drug product and breeding a new plant are extremely complex and expensive processes. For companies to be able to afford the enormous, sustained investment in research and development in the first place, they need the security of knowing that they will be able to market their newly developed products exclusively for a defined period of time. This has always been done with patents, which protect the intellectual property of the respective inventor.
Plants are primarily patented if they have been specifically modified to contain a new trait that makes them, for example, resistant to pests or drought, or able to produce enhanced yields. Breeders generally achieve these inventions by means of genetic engineering, but they are also possible with other techniques.
Innovations have over the past decades led to huge efficiency increases in agriculture. While in 1960, one farmer in Germany could feed 17 people, by 2015 that figure had risen to 156. In the late 1950s, Germany produced 3.2 tons of wheat per hectare; in 2016, this figure was 8 tons. The yield for potatoes increased from 23 to 45 tons per hectare and for sugar beet from 36 to 75 tons per hectare. Source Without these yield increases it would not be possible today to feed all of the people on the planet; in the same time period, the world’s population has grown from 3 billion to 7.4 billion.