UPOV Meetings Conclude With New Observers; Tanzania Can Become UPOV Member 22/10/2014 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)The international body protecting new varieties of plants concluded a week-long set of meetings with a number of decisions, among which was the re-appointment of its secretary general, and the addition of an international organisation and a farmers’ organisation as observers. The national legislation on plant breeders of Zanzibar was approved, opening the way for Tanzania to become a UPOV member. The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) held meetings of its governing and technical bodies from 13-17 October. The 48th ordinary session of the UPOV Council took place on 16 October (IPW, Biodiversity/Genetic Resources/Biotech, 13 October 2014). According to a UPOV press briefing [pdf], Francis Gurry was re-appointed secretary-general of UPOV for a period from 16 October 2014 to 30 September 2020. Gurry is also director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the position is traditionally tied. Day-to-day operations of UPOV are handled by the vice-secretary general, who is currently Peter Button of the United Kingdom. The UPOV Council also noted that the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act of Zanzibar, which was adopted by the Zanzibar House of Representatives, was in line with the provisions of the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention, allowing Tanzania to become a UPOV member. Zanzibar is a “semi-autonomous part of Tanzania.” It has “its own government, known as the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar,” according to the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar. The draft legislation of mainland Tanzania was previously examined by the UPOV Council and found in conformity with UPOV 1991. Last year, a number of civil society and farmers’ organisations had warned against Tanzania acceding to UPOV 1991. Civil society and famers’ organisations consider in general that UPOV 1991, which is the last version of the UPOV Convention, first adopted in Paris in 1961 and revised in 1972, 1978 and 1991, is more stringent than earlier versions, to the disadvantage of small farmers. This, in particular, because it prevents farmers from saving, selling or exchanging farm-saved seeds (IPW, Biodiversity/Genetic Resources/Biotech, 25 March 2013). New Observers The UPOV Consultative Committee, which met on 15 October, granted observer status to the intergovernmental South Centre, now able to participate in the UPOV Council and the Administrative and Legal Committee (CAJ). The World Farmers’ Organisation, an international organisation of farmers based in Rome, was also accredited as an observer to participate in the UPOV Council, the CAJ, and the Technical Committee. The CAJ deals with administrative, legal and financial matters of the organisation, and the Technical Committee deals with technical aspects, such as reviewing technical documents. A South Centre source said the organisation is “very pleased” to have been accepted as an observer to the UPOV Council. “As an observer to UPOV, the South Centre will be able to provide improved assistance to developing countries with regards to how to implement their obligation on [sic] providing effective protection to new plant varieties under the WTO TRIPS Agreement, whether the country is member or not of the UPOV system.” TRIPS is the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. In its statement to UPOV on the request of observer status, the South Centre remarked that it “has long been following policy developments in UPOV and providing policy research and analytical support to its member states on plant variety protection issues in accordance to its constitutional treaty.” “Certainly, the choice of regime for plant variety protection and its implementation at national level is a major policy issue for developing countries,” it said. “Obtaining observer status in UPOV will allow the South Centre to enhance the interaction between the South Centre and UPOV.” Civil society in the past have criticised the fact that the UPOVAdministrative and Legal Committee Advisory Group is closed to observers. Learning Courses, FAQs UPOV will open several new distance learning courses in 2015, on the examination of applications for plant breeders’ rights, according to the release. According to a UPOV source, the Council adopted the answers to some “frequently asked questions” proposed by the consultative committee. For example, one question was “Under the UPOV system, breeders decide the conditions and limitations under which they authorize the exploitation of their protected varieties. Can farmers, for instance, be allowed to exchange seeds of protected varieties freely within the local community?” To which UPOV answered: “Article 14(1)(a) of UPOV 1991 and article 5(1) of UPOV 1978 define the acts in respect of the propagating material for which the breeder authorization shall be required; Article 14(1)(b) and respectively Article 5(2) state that the breeder may make his authorization subject to conditions and limitations.” It added, “Therefore any breeder may decide on the conditions and limitations under which he authorizes the exploitation of his/her protected variety. He may, for instance, allow the farmer to exchange seeds of protected varieties freely within the local community.” This answer was criticised by Sangeeta Shashikant of the Third World Network, who told Intellectual Property Watch, “It is extremely disappointing that UPOV member states have opted for an extremely narrow understanding of the private and non-commercial exception to breeders’ right.” “This restrictive understanding clearly shows that UPOV 1991 is simply not appropriate for developing countries,” she said, “as the agricultural system in these countries tends to be dominated by small-scale farmers in the informal seed sector, which is underpinned by the practise of freely saving, using, planting, replanting, exchanging and selling seed. UPOV 1991 continues to fail to take into account the needs and interests of small-scale farmers.” This is part of UPOV’s communication strategy announced a few months back (IPW, Biodiversity/Genetic Resources/Biotech, 5 May 2014). The FAQs are then posted on the UPOV website. According to the release, 58 members of the union offer protection to all plant varieties. UPOV counted 72 members in June 2014. In 2013, 103,261 titles were in force, going over 100,000 titles for the first time in UPOV history, according to the release. UPOV statistics [pdf] for the period 2009-2013 show that in 86,484 titles were in force in 2009. A number of technical documents were adopted, such as software and equipment used by members of the union, and a revision of a list of test guidelines, and will be added to the UPOV Collection, which provide guidance and information materials concerning plant variety protection. New chairpersons of UPOV bodies were also elected, as listed in the release. Relationship with Plant Treaty, WIPO In September, a number of civil society groups co-signed a letter to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) calling for it to safeguard the implementation of farmers’ rights in the context of joint activities with the World Intellectual Property Organization and UPOV (IPW, WIPO, 29 September 2014). According to a UPOV document, “the Consultative Committee deferred plans for the updating of the Impact Study pending work to identify with the Secretary of the ITPGRFA and the Secretariat of WIPO possible areas of interrelations among the international instruments of the ITPGRFA, WIPO and UPOV with a view to a possible joint publication on interrelated issues regarding innovation and plant genetic resources.” According to a source, the ITPGRFA sent a letter on 14 October to UPOV, suggesting that the question be referred to the Treaty’s Hoc Technical Committee on Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, to meet in the first quarter of 2015. When interrelations are identified, the committee is expected to transmit them to UPOV and WIPO, according to the letter. A joint report would be prepared by a team of experts and public comments would be invited and incorporated in the draft outline and draft joint report prepared by the experts, the letter states, according to the source. Image Credits: Flickr – Parshotam Lal Tandon Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com."UPOV Meetings Conclude With New Observers; Tanzania Can Become UPOV Member" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.