Profile: International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV)
International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Revisions to the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants strengthen the intellectual property rights of seed developers. The convention was created in 1961 and is one of several international conventions and treaties that operate under the umbrella of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The convention’s governing body is the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). The newly revised UPOV agreement extends the term of plant breeders’ intellectual property protections for new varieties from 15 years to 20 years. It also prohibits farmers from saving seeds, though there is an optional clause that allows member countries to exempt farmers from this restriction under certain conditions. For example, the clause says the restrictions can be waived if member countries implement other mechanisms that provide equivalent protections for the “legitimate interests of the breeder.”
[International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 3/19/1991; Dhar, Pandey, and Chaturvedi, 6/23/1995] The revisions will enter into force one month after five states have ratified, accepted, approved or acceded to UPOV ‘91.
The 1991 revisions to the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (see March 19, 1991) are entered into force. The controversial changes limit farmers’ rights while extending intellectual property rights for seed companies and other plant breeders. [International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 4/21/1998; Financial Times, 4/24/1998] A press release published by the UPOV notes that Article 27.3(b) of the WTO TRIPS agreement calls for its members to protect plant varieties with patents or other mechanisms, such as the UPOV convention, which it says is the “only internationally recognized sui generis system for the protection of plant varieties.” The press release also notes that this obligation in the TRIPS Agreement, which already applies to developed country members of WTO, will enter into force for many developing countries on January 1, 2000. [International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 4/21/1998]
The Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) completes an analysis on the implications of genetic use restriction technology (GURT) for small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities. The paper was requested the previous year by member governments of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. In its 6-page memorandum, UPOV says it believes that using GURTs as a means to protect intellectual property would be less advantageous for society than implementing Plant Breeders’ Rights legislation based on UPOV’s 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (see December 19, 2002). UPOV notes that unlike GURT, its 1991 convention has provisions that allow farmers to save seeds; set a time-limit (20 years) on a breeder’s exclusive rights; and permit farmers, researchers, and breeders to breed protected seeds when it is done privately, for non-commercial or experimental purposes, and when it is done to breed new varieties. Furthermore, under GURT, there is “no provision for public interest, allowing government access to varieties under particular circumstances,” as there is in the UPOV’s convention. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1/10/2003 ; ETC Group, 4/17/2003]
An ad hoc expert panel created by the sixth conference of the Biodiversity Convention convenes in Montreal to consider the impact that genetic use restriction technology (GURT), also known as terminator technology, would have on small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities. The expert panel hears from 11 groups including the US, Canada, two individual farmers, an indigenous rights group, four civil society organizations, the International Seed Federation, and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). [Collins and Krueger, n.d. ; ETC Group, 4/17/2003; Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 ] The paper presented by UPOV, completed in January (see January 10, 2003), is not well-received by the US or industry representatives. Though the UPOV is generally an ardent supporter of intellectual rights protections, its analysis argues that GURT technology could threaten the interests of small farmers. The paper is so unwelcome, in fact, that the US and the International Seed Federation will succeed in pressuring the UPOV to revise it (see March 13, 2003-April 11, 2003), eliminating all references to GURT from the body of the paper.
Prepared by Monsanto’s Roger Krueger and Harry Collins of Delta & Pine Land (D&PL), the International Seed Federation’s analysis takes the position that GURT technology would be advantageous for small farmers. Their paper argues that GURT would benefit small farmers and indigenous peoples by providing them with more options. “The International Seed Federation (ISF) believes that GURTs have the potential to benefit farmers and others in all size, economic and geographical areas… In reality, the potential effects of the GURTs may be beneficial to small farmers… ,” the paper asserts. “It is the strong belief and position of the ISF that GURTs would potentially provide more choice, to the farmers, rather than less choice.” Kruefer and Collins also say the technology could be used to prevent the contamination of non-transgenic plants with genetically modified genes and thus could be “quite positive for the environment and biodiversity.”
[Collins and Krueger, n.d. ; ETC Group, 4/17/2003; Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 ] The expert panel’s final report will list 35 “potential negative impacts” of GURT on small farmers and local communities and only nine “potential positive impacts.” It will recommend, among other things, “that parties and other governments consider the development of regulatory frameworks not to approve GURTs for field-testing and commercial use.”
[Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 ]
On March 13, Lois Boland, administrator for external affairs at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), sends a letter to UPOV Vice-Secretary General Rolf Jordens asking him to withdraw UPOV’s analysis on genetic use restriction technology (GURT) (see January 10, 2003). The analysis, presented in February to an expert panel convened by the Biodiversity Convention (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003), argued that GURT would not serve the interests of farmers or the public. In her letter, Boland complains that the UPOV Council did not allow the US to see the analysis before it was presented. “Even more troubling,” she adds, “the document submitted to the CBD is not a neutral presentation of facts and prevailing opinions; instead, it represents a one-sided negative view of GURTs.” In light of these concerns, she asks that the memo be discussed at the next scheduled meeting of UPOV’s Administrative and Legal Committee on April 10, 2003. [US Patent and Trademark Office, 3/13/2003 ] In response, Jordens suggests that the matter be considered by UPOV’s Consultative Committee instead. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 3/17/2003 ] Boland replies that that would not be acceptable and insists that it be debated in the Administrative and Legal Committee. [US Patent and Trademark Office, 3/28/2003 ] Jordens gives in. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 3/17/2003 ] On March 31, Secretary-General of the International Seed Federation Bernard Le Buanec also voices concerns about the UPOV analysis, writing in a letter that the federation “is really concerned by the memorandum, as it presents a variety of unbalanced views.”
[International Seed Federation, 3/31/2003 ] On April 10, the UPOV memo is debated in the Administrative and Legal Committee. Under pressure from the US, the UPOV agrees to say that it is not a “competent body to provide advice to CBD on GURTs.” A new version of the memo is posted on the UPOV’s website the next day with the following explanation: “This document supersedes the memorandum prepared by the Office of the Union on the genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs) and sent to the CBD, dated January 10, 2003.” The new version deletes all references to GURT from the body of the document. As such, the new document makes no attempt to respond to the Biodiversity Convention’s original request for analysis of GURT. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1/10/2003 ; ETC Group, 4/17/2003]
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