August 31, 1994

People, Plants, and Patents

The impact of intellectual property on trade, plant biodiversity, and rural society

The recent GATT agreement and the Biodiversity Convention have moved intellectual property rights to the centre of South-North relations.

Decisions about intellectual property, particularly for plant life, have major implications for food security, agriculture, rural development, and the environment for every country in the South and the North. For the South, in particular, the impact of intellectual property on farmers, rural societies, and biological diversity will be profoundly important.

* Patents granted for genetically engineered cotton could profoundly influence the future of a $20 billion crop critical to many national economies in the South.
* Farmers' organizations in Andean countries believe that patents granted for two varieties of coloured cotton do not recognize the major contribution to the new product by indigenous communities in South and Central America.

The Crucible Group met in June 1993, in Uppsala, Sweden, and in September 1993, in Bern, Switzerland, to hammer out ideas and recommendations on intellectual property. Rather than seeking consensus, The Crucible Group identified trends, concerns, and opportunities in intellectual property issues related to plant breeding and plant genetic resources.

People, Plants, and Patents examines intellectual property and the patenting of life forms as bluntly and as fairly as possible. People, Plants, and Patents helps to identify the major points and the range of policy alternatives in this extraordinarily important, fast-changing, and politicized field.

Book review: Genes, share them or lose them by Steve Emmott (a review published in New Scientist, 17 September 1994, p. 41).

The authors

The Crucible Group started informally in October 1992, when a group of men and women, all of whom had taken part in the Keystone International Dialogue on Plant Genetic Resources, decided there was a need for a single document setting out the intellectual property debate. The Crucible Group continues to offer advice and monitor intellectual property trends.


* Preface - The Crucible Group
* Acknowledgments
* Executive Summary

* The Policy Environment
* Nurturing Diversity
* Diversifying Innovation
* Divining the Trade Options

* 1. Policy

* The Growing Importance of Plant Biodiversity
* The Changing Role of Intellectual Property
* The Place of Innovation
* The Human Context
* Different Viewpoints

* 2. Plants

* Plant Genetic Erosion
* National Conservation Strategies
* International Strategies
* The Convention on Biological Diversity
* Different Viewpoints

* 3. People

* Community Innovation
* National (Public and Private) Innovation

* 4. Patents

* GATT and Agricultural Biodiversity
* The Patent Option
* The UPOV Option
* Sui Generis Possibilities
* The Special Case of International Centres
* Different Viewpoints

* Appendices

* 1. A Brief Chronology of the Patent Debate in the North
* 2. The Biodiversity Convention
* 3. TRIPS - Trade-Related IP
* 4. National-International Seed Enterprises: Perspective from the Private Sector
* 5. Comparison of Main Provisions of PBR under UPOV 1978 and 1991, and Patent Law
* 6. Patents on Plants
* 7. Trade Secrets and Material Transfer Agreements

* Glossary
* Acronyms
* Bibliography

Click here to obtain a copy through the IDRC web site.

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