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    Genetic Origin In Food And Agriculture Difficult To Identify, Say Seed Treaty Officials

    Published on 8 February 2013 @ 12:02 pm

    By , Intellectual Property Watch

    Global food security lies in the capacity to access and contribute to a wide pool of genetic material, the chair of the United Nations treaty on plant genetic material said on the margin of this week’s World Intellectual Property Organization meeting on the protection of genetic resources. But the origin of this genetic material is often impossible to determine, particularly for crops, the treaty secretary said.

    The International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) held a side event to give an overview of progresses made in the context of the ITPGRFA on 8 February. The event was held at the 23rd session of the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC), taking place from 4-8 February.

    Javad Mozafari Hashjin, current chair of the ITPGRFA Governing Body, said it is probable that plant genetic resources is the most important asset the world has to face the combined problems of a growing population and the new challenges posed by climate change.

    “There is a tendency to treasure what we have,” but it is not going to be useful to guard jealously our genetic resources and try to build a boundary around them, Mozafari said.

    “We need to look at genetic resources as a common pool,” and the ITPGRFA is the first binding instrument that “makes a peace” between conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources, and the sovereign rights of nations over their genetic resources, he said.

    Shakeel Bhatti, secretary of the ITPGRFA, said the current gene pool of genetic resources in food and agriculture was the outcome of millennia of traditional open exchanges of genetic material between farmers and farmer communities, citing as example the potato and tubers originating from the Andes region in Latin America and now cultivated worldwide.

    Bhatti: Identifying Country of Origin Almost Impossible

    Genetic resources in food and agriculture have been shared and exchanged over thousands of years and “therefore it is hardly possible to identify a single country of origin, at least with some crops” according to Bhatti. This “has implications when you deal with questions of disclosure of the country of origin of genetic resources that are utilised in an invention that is claimed in a patent application,” he added.

    The mandatory disclosure of the country of origin in patent applications is one of the burning issues in the current IGC negotiations (IPW, WIPO, 1 February 2013). There, developing countries are hoping to reach an international legally binding instrument to prevent misappropriation of genetic resources by third parties.

    The fact that for crop genetic resources it is “very often not possible” to identify country of origin means that specific tailored-made solutions could or should be built into those requirements so the requirements can recognise the specific features of plant genetic resources, he said.

    Countries and regions are entirely interdependent, as “no country is self-sufficient for feeding its own population only on crops that originate in its own territory,” he added.

    Growing Use of Multilateral System

    The ITPGRFA gene pool currently holds 1.6 million samples of documented plant genetic materials, according to Bhatti, and large volumes of genetic material are being transferred on a daily basis between agricultural research centres and breeding programmes worldwide, he said. Bhatti estimated the number of samples transferred daily to be between 600 and 800.

    Following a recommendation of the ITPGRFA governing body at its last meeting in Bali in 2011, contracting parties were required to explore innovative solutions for implementing non-monetary benefit mechanisms, he said.

    Article 13 of the treaty, on the benefit-sharing mechanism, specifies monetary and non-monetary benefit sharing options. Non-monetary benefit sharing include the exchange of information, access to and transfer of technology, and capacity building.

    The request of the governing body was also confirmed at United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, in June 2012, which adopted the Rio six-point Action Plan [pdf] for the treaty. The action plan requires that the ITPGRFA “establish a Platform for the Co-Development and Transfer of Technologies, within the context of non-monetary benefit-sharing under the Treaty.”

    According to Bhatti, there are currently no technology transfer platforms dedicated to plant genetic resources in food and agriculture. Existing platforms or initiatives, he said, have either a regional or an agroecological zoning-based scope but are rarely interregional or global in scale. There are a number of regions in the treaty where there is no articulated technology transfer effort for plant genetic resources and countries have expressed the need to implement and develop such an initiative, Bhatti said. The platform was discussed in a workshop [pdf] in Brasilia, on 7-8 August 2012.

    Private Sector Interest in Treaty

    Swiss biotech company Syngenta last month launched an e-licensing platform called TraitAbility (IPW, Education/R&D/Innovation, 18 January 2013). A representative told Intellectual Property Watch that in 2011 the company launched a pilot e-license platform which included only patented native traits in commercial vegetable varieties.

    “To welcome parties to try our pilot platform, we pledged to donate 20 percent of the total royalty income for ‘basic’ native traits from any licensee signing up within the first five months to the International Treaty for the entire lifetime of the patent,” Leo Melchers, head of licensing said in written comments. “No licenses were taken in this time and therefore we have not yet made a donation to the treaty.”

    “Syngenta believes the International Treaty is an important organisation to ensure international cooperation and open exchange of genetic resources to collectively improve plant breeding and food security,” he said.

    Up to now, large biotech companies such as Monsanto have displayed little interest in the instrument, Mozafari said at the side event.

    Bhatti also said that the ITPGRFA had been consulted by the CGIAR (former Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) during the revision of the management of their intellectual assets.

    According to the CGIAR, the Principles on the Management of Intellectual Assets were approved in April 2012. The establishment of those principles answered a need to create greater transparency in relation “to the uses of publicly funded research,” while an increasing number of partnerships with a diverse range of partners led to intellectual property taking a more prominent role in recent years. The adopted principles currently govern the use of intellectual assets throughout CGIAR.

    Researcher Tiphaine Nunzia Caulier contributed to this story.

    Catherine Saez may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

     


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    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website. By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website.

    By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    1. You agree that you are fully responsible for the content that you post. You will not knowingly post content that violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property right of any third party or which you know is under a confidentiality obligation preventing its publication and that you will request removal of the same should you discover that you have violated this provision. Likewise, you may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party's right to privacy, that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national or international law, that amounts to spamming or that is otherwise inappropriate. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Epithets and other language intended to intimidate or to incite violence are also prohibited. Furthermore, you may not impersonate others.

    2. You understand and agree that Intellectual Property Watch is not responsible for any content posted by you or third parties. You further understand that IP Watch does not monitor the content posted. Nevertheless, IP Watch may monitor the any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove, edit or otherwise alter content that it deems inappropriate for any reason whatever without consent nor notice. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on our site. IP Watch is not in any manner endorsing the content of the discussion forums and cannot and will not vouch for its reliability or otherwise accept liability for it.

    3. By submitting any contribution to IP Watch, you warrant that your contribution is your own original work and that you have the right to make it available to IP Watch for all purposes and you agree to indemnify IP Watch, its directors, employees and agents against all damages, legal fees and others expenses that may be incurred by IP Watch as a result of your breach of warranty or of these terms.

    4. You further agree not to publish any personal information about yourself or anyone else (for example telephone number or home address). If you add a comment to a blog, be aware that your email address will be apparent.

    5. IP Watch will not be liable for any loss including but not limited to the following (whether such losses are foreseen, known or otherwise): loss of data, loss of revenue or anticipated profit, loss of business, loss of opportunity, loss of goodwill or injury to reputation, losses suffered by third parties, any indirect, consequential or exemplary damages.

    6. You understand and agree that the discussion forums are to be used only for non-commercial purposes. You may not solicit funds, promote commercial entities or otherwise engage in commercial activity in our discussion forums.

    7. You acknowledge and agree that you use and/or rely on any information obtained through the discussion forums at your own risk.

    8. For any content that you post, you hereby grant to IP Watch the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, exclusive and fully sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part, world-wide and to incorporate it in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

    9. These terms and your posts and contributions shall be governed and interpreted in accordance with the laws of Switzerland (without giving effect to conflict of laws principles thereof) and any dispute exclusively settled by the Courts of the Canton of Geneva.

     

     
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