Plant Variety Protection: Complexities, Conflicts and Conceptual Indeterminacies

Plant Variety Protection: Complexities, Conflicts and Conceptual Indeterminacies
2021-02-09

Dr Titilayo Adebola presents the eight contribution to the  Centre for Commercial Law (CCL)’s blog series on “Seeing Commercial Law from Different Perspectives.” This series was launched to celebrate the University of Aberdeen’s 525 anniversary and to showcase CCL members thought-provoking standpoints on researching, teaching, or practising commercial law. Titilayo joined the University of Aberdeen as a Lecturer in Law in September 2018. She is the Associate Director of CCL and Theme Coordinator for Intellectual Property Law. Her research and teaching interests include international economic law, intellectual property law and food law.

“Plant variety protection encompasses intellectual property rights (IPRs) alongside related norms, principles and systems that protect plant varieties. The United States of America (US) crafted the first national IPRs legislation, namely the Plant Patent Act of 1930 (PPA). Across the Atlantic, European countries introduced IPRs for plant varieties from the 1940s. Italy and France extended patents to plant varieties in 1948 and 1949; Netherlands, Austria and Germany enacted sui generis IPRs systems for plant varieties in 1942, 1946 and 1953. The post-World II calls to harmonise laws in Europe inspired the adoption of the first international IPRs treaty for plant varieties, namely the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). UPOV offers a sui generis plant breeders’ rights system mainly suited to commercial plant breeders. While the US, Europe and several Global North countries had designed a plethora of plant variety protection laws by the 1970s, newly independent Global South countries queried the asymmetries in the existing laws. These countries opposed the marginalisation of small-scale farmers and free flow of genetic resources from the Global South to the Global North. With the support of activists and civil society organisations, Global South countries pushed for alternative legal norms, principles and systems to recognise and reward small-scale farmers’ contributions to conserving and developing plant varieties. These alternatives include farmers’ rights, farmers’ varieties, traditional knowledge and access and benefit-sharing provisions enshrined in international treaties such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Beyond the challenge of interpreting and implementing complex treaties and conflicting norms, principles and systems, which is exacerbated by ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ external pressures, new technologies such as genome editing and genome sequencing raise vital questions about the future of plant variety protection. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights obligation for World Trade Organisation members to protect plant varieties makes plant variety protection an essential feature of member states’ domestic laws. However, actors and authors maintain different perspectives on the subject, depending on underlying interests.”

Published by School of Law, University of Aberdeen

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