Abstract and Keywords
The legal status of plant genetic resources has been subject to numerous international agreements and laws over the centuries. The “common heritage of mankind” approach enabled free access but proved unworkable because of conflicts over intellectual property rights. The Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) recognized sovereign rights of nations over genetic resources within their territory. The Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement under auspices of the World Trade Organization mandated intellectual property protection for plant varieties, but synchronizing such rights has proved problematic. Many developing countries have enacted sui generis regimes to comply with TRIPS requirements. The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants Convention provides models that have changed over time. With the advent of agricultural biotechnology and availability of intellectual property rights for plant components, patents relating to plant genetic resources have increased. As plant genetic resources are subject to many overlapping treaties, the regime governing them is becoming more complex, resulting in inconsistencies and disputes. While the rights of plant breeders and the private seed industry are well protected in formal agreements, the rights of farmers, who have nurtured diversity in plant genetic resources, developed varieties of crops with different traits, and contributed to exchange and conservation of plant genetic resources, are left to the discretion of nation-states. Farmers’ rights are mentioned in many international legal instruments, but no binding treaty or convention mandates protecting and promoting the rights of working farmers.
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