The Importance of Intellectual Property in Plant Science
Today the world faces new challenges, ranging from climate change to growing populations and changes in demand. Meeting these challenges sustainably will require better use of resources, new tools and new technologies. Agricultural innovation plays a key role in driving long-term agricultural productivity, rural development, and environmental sustainability by encouraging innovation and the creation of new solutions. For this reason, innovation needs to be encouraged, supported, and protected.
In any industry, the maintenance of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is an essential basis for innovation and progress. Intellectual property protection is necessary to encourage continued investment in research and development and is important for bringing news innovations to farmers.
Why is Research and Development Important?
The plant science industry is one of the world’s most research and development-intensive industries. It ranks in the top four global industries in terms of percentage of sales invested in research and development (R&D). For example, the industry’s top 10 companies invest US $2.25 billion, or 7.5 per cent of sales, into the research and development of cutting-edge products in crop protection, non-agricultural pest control, seeds and plant biotechnology. All these products aim to improve sustainable agricultural production. CropLife International and its members are fuelled by a passion for innovation and committed to providing farmers with the agricultural tools needed to grow crops sustainably. This can only be enabled by providing effective and balanced pant variety protection (PVP) and patent rights.
Why do we need Plant Variety Protection Rights and patent rights?
Plant Variety Protection (PVP) rights are an excellent way to protect individual plant varieties, but they do not provide protection for all plant related inventions. PVP rights protect agricultural research and give exclusive rights to the plant breeder for their investment in the development, propagation, and other steps in the plant breeding process.
Although any specific plant varieties can be protected by PVP rights, any particular novel trait cannot be protected by PVP but can be easily transferred to any variety of a given crop, and sometimes can be applied in different crops. Therefore, companies investing in R&D for identifying new traits should be able to protect them by the only other available legal tool, namely patents. A patent is a temporary technical monopoly on a novel technical solution which gives the owner of the patent the sole right to use and profit from that particular invention.
Plant related innovations have played a significant role in maintaining a strong and stable food supply. New plant varieties have enabled us to enjoy diverse, safe, nutritious, and abundant food. Any reduction of the ability to obtain balanced IP or any creation of legal uncertainty as to its sustainability will undermine the probability and availability of innovations that we rely upon for the food on our tables.
Innovation in plant breeding has never been more vital, both for breeders and farmers as well as for society. There are great challenges ahead, for example, we need to produce more from existing (or preferably less) land with less inputs. And to achieve such a formidable goal, IPR need to ensure effective value creation and sharing via new plant varieties. Therefore, it is essential that the IP system evolves to stay fit for purpose as plant breeding technology and society’s needs evolve.