In plant breeding, two types of intellectual property rights (IPRs) play a major role; plant breeders’ rights (PBRs), developed between 1900 and 1950; and patent rights, which emerged with the rise of modern biotechnology. This paper examines the impact of both systems on breeders, farmers and agricultural innovation.
The link between food security and intellectual property and innovation may not at first seem obvious says Sue Farran, Professor of Laws. In this article, Farran observes ‘that food security cannot or should not be seen as an isolated concern but as integral to various other contemporary issues concerning Pacific island countries (PICs), especially trade and development, climate change and the movement of people’. According to Farran, the intellectual property regimes which impact directly on food security are shaped by the developed world and primarily serve to protect the interests of corporations. Farran argues that although UPOV, for example, is favoured by commercial plant breeders, it is particularly unsuitable for the Pacific region because food crops are not grown from seed but from plant-stock propagation. She sees the use of non-traditional intellectual property regulations as having two potentially negative consequences for food security in PICs: firstly they exclude PICs from access to essential resources and secondly the food products of traditional knowledge can be traded without appropriate acknowledgment; or the value of such knowledge for contributing to food security could be undermined. She further notes that the funding mechanisms for research into climate change resistant food crops (e.g. drought tolerant cops) seem to ignore the argument that the food resources of the world should belong to the global commons. She concludes that until the inter-connectedness of factors which affect food security is recognised and the various stakeholders including farmers, researchers, trade and legal experts, community leaders and policymakers consult each other in a meaningful way for making informed policy decisions, there is a danger that the risks will not be adequately addressed.
Oduor Ong’wen, the Kenya country director for the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI), explains how Africa has lagged in the advancement and implementation of IP rights, with dire consequence for many communities that could have benefitted immensely from indigenous crops and plants and derived products from natural resources and traditional recipes, if well protected by law. He concludes in his detailed review on the IP regime in Africa: “Genetic technologies move knowledge from the public to the private domain. Therefore, increasing amounts of know-how, which would have been available freely for further innovation and product development, is either unavailable, if exclusive licenses were granted, or must be purchased. While research and development in all countries is affected by these changes, African countries suffer most, for four reasons. First, located in the periphery of research and development networks, their chance to obtain exclusive licenses first is very low. Second, transnational corporation have long entered the so-called ‘knowledge economy’ by creating huge patent portfolios for the sale and exchange of licenses and by creating knowledge monopolies and cross-licensing networks in which emerging industries in Africa can hardly participate. Third, while identifying and purchasing the necessary licenses is difficult and costly for any industry, African countries are particularly handicapped because they frequently have not the same informational and financial resources. Lastly, the increasing costs of patent filings and litigations required for new product developments pose a growing barrier to any research and development efforts in poor countries.” (Source: Pambazuka News, November 2010)
The IP dossier of the CTA's Knowledge for Development website has been compiled to assist ACP countries develop the required technical capacities to implement the various international agreements relating to intellectual property in agriculture for their own benefit.