SpicyIP Tidbits: The UPOV Uprooting Participation?

An interesting article in IP Watch caught the attention of the SpicyIP team this week. In keeping with our endeavour to increase transparency and discussion on intellectual property related topics, this article in IP Watch has provided us with ample information.

The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants this month to grant two advocacy groups, the “observer status” as has been provided for under the Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) Convention. What has raised considerable concern is the two fold level at which this decision can be termed problematic:

a. This indicates an increasing and disturbing trend against the participation of Advocacy Groups and those affected by the decisions taken by the UPOV.

b. This also is problematic in terms of the framework within which the Union makes its decisions. “The purpose of the UPOV Convention, according to its website, is to protect new varieties of plants via intellectual property rights. Its rules on observer status say that organisational statutes or treaties are to be used to determine such competence, but does not provide a specific list of desired criteria.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that not all the records of the consultative committee that has been granted the power to decide who can be conferred with the “observer status” are not publicly available.

At best, this position of the UPOV can be called questionable. The two groups denied observer status in this case, Association of Plant Breeding for the Benefit of Society (APREBES) and the European Farmers Coordination (now known as the European Coordination of Via Campesina, or ECVC), were deemed not “competent” in the areas of direct relevance as required by the UPOV. And other questionable decisions include the fact that not a single group from the developing world is an “observer”.

In terms of the general scheme of decision and policy making, it is understandable that administratively there must be certain checks in place to ensure a level of competence and expertise. However, where the criteria for such competence is not clearly defined, and participation- diversified, representative or otherwise- is seemingly sidelined, this blogger wonders if the decisions taken by the UPOV on important topics such as breeders’ rights, seed issues and plant protection will be practicable without any input from those certain to be affected.

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1 thought on “SpicyIP Tidbits: The UPOV Uprooting Participation?”

  1. I have posted a comment on the IP-Watch post and would invite readers of this blog to read it as well since it puts the record straight on some issues.

    I agree with this post’s opinion that the UPOV decision was “problematic” or “questionable” and raises “considerable concern”. Yet one should look at the broader picture – which requires guess work from those who (like myself) were not privy to the decision-making process – and not just the point of view put forward by the unsuccessful candidates and largely reflected in the IP-Watch post.

    The press release referred to in IP-Watch necessarily leads to wonder, first, who as between the European Farmers Coordination and Via Campesina was the applicant and, second, whether APREBES has a real existence and whether (all) its members are effectively involved in plant breeding (which is in any event “for the benefit of society”, even if practiced by commercial entities – if the resulting varieties were not, they would not sell on the market).

    I do not agree – subject to hearing otherwise from Geneva – with this post’s comment that the two candidates were deemed not “competent”: the candidates’ applications were not rejected but “could not be considered further until (they) demonstrated their competence” in UPOV matters.

    I have more problems with the assertion that not a single group from the developing countries is an observer and that this might affect the decisions taken by UPOV on important topics.

    As to the first point, over and above the regional seed associations (Asia and Pacific, and the Americas), the worldwide farmers and seed associations having observer status in UPOV include a strong, vocal and influential presence from developing countries. In particular, the website of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers deserves a visit (India is in IFAP through the Federation of Farmers’ Associations and the National Institute of Agriculture and has the chair of the Regional Committee for Asia).

    As to the second point, there is a widespread belief – actively nurtured by the so-called civil society organisations (CSOs) – that international policy-making is deficient without their contribution and harming developing countries. This, coming from CSOs based in the North smacks neocolonialism; official delegates from developing country member States are perfectly equipped to have the developing country voice heard. Many South-based CSOs are dependent upon money from North-based entities and thus incited, persuaded or even forced to dance along the tune set by the latter’s ideology and obsessions.

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