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Fleeced by Phylos?


About two years ago, we wrote in these pages about the looming battle over cannabis genetics and the effort of deep-pocketed companies to register utility patents — the strongest intellectual-property protection available for field crops in the United States, one that essentially treats them like works of art — for cannabis ("Who Owns Your Pot?" Aug. 31, 2017). And we noted there was an effort to push back, led in part by a Portland scientist by the name of Mowgli Holmes, who created a system that allowed growers to register their strain genetics into the public domain. "But farmers are suspicious," we wrote, "fearing Holmes intends to steal the genetics for himself." To some, those words — and the underlying fears — now seem prophetic. The cannabis industry was rocked a couple of weeks ago by news that Phylos Bioscience, Holmes' Portland-based cannabis testing company, is launching an in-house breeding program. After the announcement, a video began circulating of Holmes pitching a room full of potential investors at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference, telling them that the vast amount of genetic data his company has collected makes it uniquely suited to breed "optimized plants" that are resistant to molds and mildew or primed to grow in a certain climate or region. What's rubbing farmers the wrong way is that Holmes pitched Phylos' services as a way for farmers to get their unique strains genetically tested to protect against predatory patenting, even giving them the option of registering them in the public domain, which would leave them open to use by anyone. Phylos billed its testing service, in part, as a way to fight the proverbial Monsantos circling around the cannabis industry, launching the Open Cannabis Project, a now independent entity that announced last week that it will be closing by the end of the month amid the fallout from Phylos' announcement. "Our story has been a key part of shaping their public image as altruistic and science-loving protectors of the cultivation community," the project's eight-member board wrote in an open letter announcing the move. "OCP started as a project of Phylos to 'protect' heirloom varieties from overbroad patents as cannabis transitions into a legal market." The fact that Phylos, which has spent years mapping cannabis genetics and doing other testing for farmers, is getting into the breeding game opened the flood gates of worry and speculation in the industry. "The…

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