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Notes for Contributors


CBD 2010 Nagoya Prot
IPRS on PGRs G.Lam'04
GM  Agribus Concentration
FAO-IT ENB Madrid'06
CBD COP 8 Curitiba 06
ABS Exp Wksh Mex'04
P Schmeiser vs Monanto
Overview of IPRs Fora
Nonviolation Complaint
ETC Bonn Guidelines 04
New ABS regime? CISDL
ETC Analysis of IT/FAO
Walker/IUCN TRIPS/sd



Intellectual Property Rights on Plant Genetic Resources (IPRs on PGRs)



Links for this section: at the bottom of the page

See also 'Poverty Alleviation' section



The introduction of GM seeds and food products in the international markets in 1994 has coincided with the creation of the WTO and its profound impact on agriculture among other instruments through the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), as well as its very powerful Dispute Settlement Body. We are thus faced with a far-reaching double innovation in the world of agriculture: The public research and free access to plant genetic resources which largely characterized the Green Revolution has been replaced by corporate ownership of a large and increasing part of research and development and of most of the related plant genetic resources. At the same time GM crops have started to spread worldwide from their US origins. This development has triggered an important legal framework with the signature in 2001 of FAO's International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. It should be noted that these issues are particularly important for developing countries, they are discussed on the 'Poverty Alleviation' section of this Website.

Intellectual property rights have become one of the biggest issues in the GMO debate, the most contentious one in fact for many consumers especially in Europe. This is because the Green Revolution which preceded the introduction of GM crops was based essentially on public research and on open access to germplasm. The genetic resources of GM seeds, however, are increasingly owned by transnational corporations. The article 'Tracking the Trend Towards Market Concentration: the Case of the Agricultural Input Industry' by
Olivier Matringe and Irene Musselli Moretti (UNCTAD, 2006) demonstrates the emergence of five monopolistic globalized agricultural input suppliers, of three equally globalized specialists in processing and marketing, and the complex more or less formalized alliances between them. Further evidence of this immensely powerful trend which is in the process of transforming the very nature of much of today's agriculture can be found at the Organic Consumers Association. As a result of this, farmers increasingly have to pay royalties. In industrialized countries this may not be a major problem, but in many developing countries especially the small farmers are mostly very much opposed to the corporate ownership of plant genetic resources and to the constraints this agricultural technique entails. Their long-established farming practices tend to be rooted in traditional knowledge and in the free re-using of seeds, and in many cases they may not be able to pay the royalties.


FAO's International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) can be seen as the United Nations' preliminary response to these issues. It was adopted in November 2001 and entered into force on 29 June 2004. It represents the harmonization of FAO's much older "1983 International Undertaking" with the Convention on Biological Diversity after long and very arduous negotiations. Its Governing Body held its first Session in Madrid 12-16 June 2006. For a succinct summary of these negotiations see ICTSD/IUCN Bridges Trade BioRes Vol. 6 No. 12, 30 June 2006. A detailed day-by-day analysis with photos of some of the key negotiators has been published by IISD's Environmental Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) Vol. 9 No. 369, 19 June 2006, http://www.iisd.ca/biodiv/itpgrgb1/ , including the final Summary issue (see especially the Brief Analysis section pp. 11-13). This first Session represents an important step forward in the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and equitable benefit-sharing, “in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity” according to the Treaty’s Art. 1.1. The most important achievement of this session consists in the adoption by the Parties to the Treaty of three very complex interlinked core components:


  1. The standard Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) is a guide for legal contracts to facilitate access and to standardize benefit-sharing requirements for the crops covered by the so-called ‘Multilateral System’ established by the ITPGRFA which lists 35 food and 29 forage crops that are covered by the agreement. It specifies the modalities and levels of payment for benefit-sharing and commits companies who sell patented seeds from ITPGRFA germplasm to pay a certain percentage (in principle 1.1%) of their revenue to the providers of the genetic resources and represents an unprecedented regulation of transfer of genetic materials from an intergovernmental organization to private firms.

  2. Once the standard MTA is implemented it is supposed to serve as a medium-term funding strategy for the treaty, complementing the insufficient FAO contributions, which must cover among other items the related monitoring and transaction costs.

  3. The parties made process at the procedural level with regards to agreeing on decision-making by consensus, and by deciding to establish a compliance committee as a platform for future negotiations in this domain. Last but not least, this first session of the Governing Body has managed to raise the visibility and the political profile of the International Treaty and of the objectives it attempts to advance. It is clear however, that we are still at an early stage of their implementation, with many issues questions to be resolved, such as the role of non-parties like the US or Japan.

The Convention on Biological Diversity has received an "encouragement", at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (in the Plan of Implementation, Chapter IV, para. 42) to negotiate a new regime on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) which should replace its very vague and essentially exhortative Bonn Guidelines. These negotiations have turned out to be exceedingly slow and tedious.






Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Washington DC and Geneva



Convention on Biological Diversity



Secretariat, Organizational Chart


Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing


Article 8(j): Traditional Knowledge, Innovations and Practices

ETC Group, Ottawa


Free electronic subscription


GRAIN, Barcelona


Free electronic subscription: Seedling


International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development, Geneva


Free electronic suscriptions:

Bridges Weekly
Bridges Trade BioRes

Bridges Monthly: on the Web and in Print
Authoritative information on trade and sustainable development

L'édition française avec Enda-Tiers monde: Passerelles



Intellectual Property Watch, Geneva



International Environmental Law Research Center, Geneva, Nairobi and New Delhi



International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, Ottawa, New York and Geneva


Free electronic subscription:


Environmental Negotiations Bulletin

In depth daily coverage of the major environmental

multilateral negotiations


South Centre, Geneva


Free electronic subscription


UK Agricultural Biodiversity Coalition



Unisféra, Centre International Centre, Montréal



Union for Ethical Biotrade, Geneva






WTO, Trade and Environment Division



WTO analytical index:

Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)