Skip to main content

Plant genetic resources and freedom to operate

Summary

The commonly accepted ideology of a “common heritage” for plant genetic resources came under pressure in the 1980s and totally disappeared when the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was adopted in 1992. The new obligations arising from the CBD that subject access and use of genetic resources to prior informed consent and mutually agreed terms on a bilateral basis have rendered the process of access and freedom to operate very cumbersome and unpredictable. Exchanges of genetic resources have reduced considerably, except for the pre-CBD accessions in gene banks. The Multilateral System (MLS) included in the Food and Agriculture Organization International Treaty (FAO IT) on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) will facilitate access to the genera and species included in Annex I of the Treaty. It should bring stability and predictability to germplasm transfers of those crops. However, the most important part for the implementation of the MLS, the Material Transfer Agreement (MTA), is still to be completed and it will be difficult to evaluate the real impact of the Treaty before finalization of the MTA. Modern varieties protected by patents, mainly in the United States of America (U.S.A.), are not available for further research and breeding for the duration of the protection. The only germplasm freely available for further research and breeding today are commercially available modern varieties protected by plant breeders' rights. This situation could evolve in a more restrictive direction due to the development of genetic engineering and the desire of some stakeholders to have stronger protection of new varieties for the first few years of their commercial use.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • ASSINSEL/ISF, 1999. Development of New Plant Varieties and Protection of Intellectual Property. Available at http://www.worldseed.org/Position_papers/IPProtectione.htm.

  • ASTA, 2004. American Seed Trade Association Position Statement on Intellectual Property Rights for the Seed Industry, July 15. http://www.amseed.org/news.asp.

  • CBD, 1994. Convention on Biological Diversity, UNEP/CBD/94/1, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, World Trade Centre, 393 St. Jacques Street, Office 300, Montreal, Que., Canada H2Y 1N9.

  • CBD, 2002. Bonn Guidelines on Access to Genetic Resources and Fair and Equitable Sharing of the Benefits Arising out of their Utilization, UNEP/CBD/COP/6/L.19, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, World Trade Centre, 393 St. Jacques Street, Office 300, Montreal, Que., Canada H2Y 1N9.

  • FAO. International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. ftp://ext-ftp.fao.org/ag/cgrfa/it/ITPGRe.pdf.

  • International Seed Federation, 2003a. Position on Disclosure of Origin in Intellectual Property Protection Applications. http://www.worldseed.org/position_papers/Pos_disclosure_of_origin.htm.

  • International Seed Federation, 2003b. Contribution of ISF to the Establishment of a Material Transfer Agreement for the Multilateral System provided for in Part IV of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. http://www.worldseed.org/pdf/MTA-InternationalTreatyPGRFA.pdf.

  • International Seed Federation, 2003c. Annex III of Contribution of ISF to the Establishment of a Material Transfer Agreement for the Multilateral System Provided for in Part IV of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. http://www.worldseed.org/pdf/MTA-InternationalTreatyPGRFA.pdf.

  • International Seed Federation, 2003d. ISF View on Protection of Intellectual Property. http://www.worldseed.org/pdf/ISF_View_on_Intellectual_Property.pdf.

  • UPOV, 1985. International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants of December 2, 1961. In Document UPOV 293(E), UPOV, Geneva.

  • UPOV, 1996. International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants of December 2, 1961 as Revised at Geneva on November 10, 1972, on October 23, 1978 and on March 19, 1991. In Document UPOV 221(E), UPOV, Geneva.

  • UPOV, 2003. Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing. In Document UPOV C/37/21, Annex III, UPOV, Geneva.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bernard Le Buanec.

Additional information

In this paper, the terms “Freedom to Operate" also encompass “Freedom to Innovate” as the limit between the two concepts is not always clear-cut.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Le Buanec, B. Plant genetic resources and freedom to operate. Euphytica 146, 1–8 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10681-005-0535-5

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10681-005-0535-5

Key words

  • access benefit sharing
  • genetic resources
  • intellectual property