Agricultural IP Issues Debated At Industry Side Event To WIPO Meeting 24/02/2006 by Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service, and subscribing to our service helps support our goals of bringing more transparency to global IP and innovation policies. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You also have the opportunity to offer additional support to your subscription, or to donate. The international crop and biotechnology industry’s concerns about current discussions on intellectual property as well as developing countries’ needs were discussed at a recent industry side event to the ongoing discussions at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The event was hosted by the Brussels-based industry association CropLife International. On the panel were Rita Hayes, deputy director general of WIPO; Sisule Musungu of the South Centre – an intergovernmental organisation of developing countries; William Masters of Purdue University of Indiana (United States); and Bernard Le Buanec of the International Seed Federation. The theme of the event was: “Intellectual property: a hindrance or a boost to innovation?” Hayes introduced WIPO and referred to its sister organisation, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), which focuses on the protection of new variants of plants. Hayes said the work of this organisation had become increasingly important. Hayes also talked about WIPO’s technical assistance programme which is about “sharing skills, knowledge and expertise,” she said. Hayes expressed surprise about a recent article that asserted that WIPO had not provided correct technical assistance to some developing countries. She said the article named countries to which WIPO had never provided technical assistance, and said WIPO only gives technical assistance to countries requesting it. Hayes did not specify which article to which she was referring, but Consumers International released a critical report on the subject this week (IPW, WIPO, 20 February 2006) She expressed concern about the idea of dividing up the world based on specific needs. Instead, she said, the focus should be on what everybody can gain from the intellectual property system. She mentioned India as an example of an environment where intellectual property has been positive, and highlighted “golden rice” as an example of a product that was IP-protected but licensed and available in a number of developing countries (containing vitamin A, which helps prevent blindness in children). Hayes said separately that copyrights constitute some of the richest potential for developing and developed countries alike. She mentioned the growing Nigerian film industry as an example, which she said now produces more than 400 pictures a year and employs 75,000 people full time. But up to 90 percent of all Nigerian DVDs are pirated copies, Hayes said. Still the film industry provides jobs, products and helps preserve national culture as well, she said. Addressing the audience of industry representatives and non-governmental organisations, Hayes said that WIPO’s role is to work for all of them and to find common ground. Hayes said that the development agenda discussions at WIPO this week are “very important.” She said that the “very mandate of WIPO” is development and that it resolves on the national and global level to “eliminate poverty.” Musungu elaborated on the question, “Is the IP bar set too high in developing countries?” He said this is not a simple “yes” or “no” question, but it depends on which factors one is considering to measure this, for example by number of patents or what category one is looking at, such as crops or health. The answer could also be based on predetermined economic and other indicators such as gross domestic product. One also could know whether the bar was set too high by looking at developing countries’ participation in the negotiation of international treaties. On this note, Musungu said that developing countries had not had a very strong coordination of their participation in IP-negotiating organisations like the World Trade Organization or WIPO before, but this was rapidly changing now. He also used India as an example, asking whether its robust pharmaceutical industry had developed because it had had a different patent system before last year or because of the patent system introduced last year – under which pharmaceuticals are patented. Musungu countered Hayes’ argument about the Nigerian film industry, arguing that it is unclear whether it had developed and flourished because of the weak protection of intellectual property rights. Prize Model Suggested To Jumpstart African Food Production Masters talked about “innovation for poverty reduction: agricultural R&D” and why some countries have managed to become self-sufficient food producers while others have not. He showed that there is more of an equatorial divide than a north-south divide in the world, with most of the low-income agriculture found around the equator. Masters also showed how poor countries’ lack of food is still the world’s greatest health threat, with “underweight” topping the list of diseases. Under-nutrition gradually has been eradicated in major regions except Africa. In Asia, it happened quickly due to an increase in local food output, he said. But in Asia, fertilizers were affordable, and there was an incentive as well as opportunity to use them, Masters said. In Africa, on the other hand, the food production has plateaued, and while they started using new kinds of seeds in Asia, the Africans are still using those of their grandparents. “Sustaining and extending growth requires new technologies” such as new varieties, according to Masters, but “Africa has had remarkably low public investment in crop improvement.” Sustaining foreign aid for agricultural research and development has also been difficult and is failing, he noted. Referring to countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden, Masters said that private R&D builds on public investment and therefore intellectual property is not the sole answer. There is a need for public investment first. Masters thus proposed a new “prize model” to provide donors with incentives and rewards, to be launched in 2007. According to this model, a donor could provide Africa with a certain type of agricultural technology for food crops, such as tools, storage, chemicals or irrigation technologies. The donor could then be compensated. Masters told Intellectual Property Watch that the members of CropLife would not get much revenue from investing in Africa but the idea was to improve the basic crop to “jump-start the system.” But there also needs to be public investment, he added. In general, Masters said that this week at WIPO was an “enormous moment for developing countries.” Finally, Le Buanec talked about the benefits of intellectual property seen from the seed industry’s perspective. He said that without the development of agriculture, there could not be development of a country. He also noted that plant breeding was becoming more and more privatised with an increase of plant breeders in countries such as China, and that it is extremely expensive to develop new varieties Le Buanec also said that in order to increase production, research and development is needed and that hybrids are always better in terms of yield and do not decrease quality. He concluded that it is possible for agriculture to help development but more R&D was needed and for this one needs intellectual property. "Agricultural IP Issues Debated At Industry Side Event To WIPO Meeting" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.