British Official To Lead UPOV As Civil Society Interest Rises 28/03/2010 by Kaitlin Mara for 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 Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), an intergovernmental agency that provides technical advice and guidelines for the identification and protection of new plants, will have a new leader for the first time in a decade, it was decided Friday. Peter John Button of the United Kingdom, currently UPOV’s technical director, will take over as vice secretary general on 1 December from Rolf Jördens of Germany, who has held the position since 2000 and who will step down on 30 November. He is given an initial contract until 30 November 2012, and it can be renewed. Meanwhile, several non-governmental organisations are showing an increased interest in the workings of UPOV, which to date has largely been seen as a technical body and is only open to non-governmental and intergovernmental observers who have “competence in areas of direct relevance in respect of matters governed by the UPOV Convention,” according to UPOV’s guidelines on observers [pdf]. Geneva-based UPOV shares the same building and top official as the World Intellectual Property Organization. WIPO Director General Francis Gurry also holds the title of Secretary General of UPOV (though Gurry, as in the case of his former boss and predecessor, Kamil Idris, has forgone the salary that could come with the UPOV job). But effectively, the vice secretary general is the one handling the day-to-day dealings at UPOV. In an unusual occurrence, the 26 March outcome, shown in a document here, guarantees a promotion to the runner-up in the UPOV election as soon as Button takes office. “Noting that that appointment [of Button] would leave a vacancy at the Director’s level (D1),” the document said, and “taking into account the level of important services currently under the responsibility of Mr Raimundo Lavignolle, Senior Counsellor, as well as his exemplary service” the UPOV decision-making council decided to promote him to that director position, effective 1 December, according to a copy of the draft decisions [pdf] obtained by Intellectual Property Watch. Lavignolle is a native of Argentina. The meeting of 68-member UPOV Council took place on 26 March 2010. At the 26 March Council, individualised meetings between the secretariat of UPOV and each member of the union were held to discuss the different candidates for the vice secretary-general position, according to several sources. The result was therefore a consensus rather than an election. The major difference between the candidates appears to be a regional one, several sources said to Intellectual Property Watch, as UPOV has been run by Europeans for the last two decades. Jördens had succeeded Barry Greengrass, also of the United Kingdom, who ran the organisation for the twelve years prior to his appointment. In the beginning years of the union, most of its members were from developed countries, with Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – who joined in 1968 – its earliest members. But over the last ten years this has changed, and some were hoping that a new geographic representation would reflect it. Others said that Lavignolle had seemed more open to the possibility of wider civil society participation in some form, such as through information sessions around the time of UPOV meetings. It was unclear whether the deal offered Lavignolle was part of a negotiation to appease those who would have voted for him. UPOV, though majority developed country members, has a strong Latin American contingent. There were originally seven candidates for the vice-secretary general position. The other five were: Antonia Ivasçu of Romania, José Graça Aranha of Brazil, Nguyen Than Minh of Viet Nam, Rafael Pérez Duvergé of the Dominican Republic, and Evans Olonyi Sikinyi of Kenya. Sources told Intellectual Property Watch that there had been a series of strict resumé requirements for the future vice-secretary general that eliminated four of them at the last UPOV meeting in October. Ivasçu withdrew her application in December for personal reasons, according to UPOV’s records [pdf]. Civil Society Interest Meanwhile, the changing demographics of the union have begun to spark questions from civil society groups, and at least one developing country official who participates in UPOV meetings. “With the excuse of being so technical, [UPOV is] not seeing the social and human” dimensions of what they do, the developing country official told Intellectual Property Watch, adding “you cannot keep an organisation apart from the world on the argument that it is very technical.” The time has come “to humanise UPOV,” the official added. A 2009 report [pdf] by the UN special rapporteur on the right to food said that patents on seeds run the risk of reducing biodiversity and causing an incentive structure that would serve agribusinesses over poor farmers. The secretariat response [pdf] dismissed these claims. But this could indicate “maybe these people [in UPOV] have an expertise in some areas and not in others,” such as the social and political consequences of the technical decisions, the official said. This is of particular concern when UPOV membership is a conditional part of a bilateral trade agreement, the official added. NGO concern may have been fanned last autumn when two farmers’ advocacy groups were denied observer status at UPOV on the grounds they had not demonstrated the required competence in technical areas needed (IPW, WIPO, 10 November 2009). The groups plan to reapply, they have said, and they have sent an open letter signed by 39 supporters to the UPOV secretariat. The next ordinary session of the UPOV Council is on 21 October. A side event immediately prior to the 26 March election, entitled the “Future of UPOV in a Changing World” sought to address the question of how UPOV could accommodate future challenges such as climate change and the ongoing problem of food security. There has been an increasing market concentration in the seed sector, said Bell Batta Torheim of the Norwegian-based NGO The Development Fund, which works on strengthening farmers’ management of biodiversity in part through participatory variety developing involving both farmers and plant breeders. By 2008, 47 percent of the world’s proprietary seeds were controlled by three companies: Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta, she said. Referring to the special rapporteur’s report, she called on UPOV to countercheck its provisions with respect to food security and its impact on biodiversity and to increase its transparency to and the participation of all stakeholders, including farmers and NGOs. Plant Variety Protection: Aiding Innovation? But Daniela de Moraes Aviana, an agronomist with Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, had a different perspective. Brazil, she said, considers IP an efficient mechanism to promote innovation, and as a developing country relies on that innovation to produce food for current markets and future challenges, for example climate change. After years of experience with plant variety protection, de Moraes Aviana said, the Brazilian ministry has realised that public research institutions such as universities, state institutions and NGOs, also need broader IP protection in order to strengthen their capacity for research and to maintain incentives to supply the market. And Canada, in an impact-assessment conducted ten years after it first introduced its Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, found that the “scientific and economic well-being of the horticulture and agriculture seed industries [had] improved,” and that farmers had “greater access to more and better varieties.” UPOV Technical Committee Meetings of several advisory committees to the UPOV Council took place during the week. A draft report of conclusions of the Technical Committee, which met 22 to 24 March, is available here [pdf]. The Technical Committee is responsible for making decisions on a series of guidelines to test whether a plant variety should be granted protection. In order to receive protection a variety must be distinct from other known varieties, uniform, and stable, according to the UPOV website. The process for determining if those features are present is different depending on the species of plant (i.e. tests for cotton are not the same as tests for cucumbers). A set of guideline amendments proposed for adoption during the technical committee is available here [pdf]. 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 Kaitlin Mara may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org."British Official To Lead UPOV As Civil Society Interest Rises" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.