Patents

Page - February 8, 2010
Patents are our way of rewarding human ingenuity and inventions with total control over those inventions. These intellectual property rights (IPR) play an increasingly important role in the way agricultural knowledge, science and technology is produced, exchanged and implemented.

According to the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), there are no substantiated data to prove that IPR benefits developing countries' or public research institutions' economies while evidence is strong that it distracts human and financial resources from addressing the needs of the poor as well as the environmental and social commons.

There are three broad areas of concern about these IPRs.

  • Private control over knowledge is impeding access and further use of such knowledge by farmers and their experts. This is especially true in developing countries where the costs and formal requirements of IPRs are hard to meet, notably when the inventions do not or only marginally result in market return but are used for public good.
  • IPRs increase the dependency of small farmers as well as local companies and institutions on powerful companies holding patents on their seed or other inputs. IPRs not only allow transnational companies to reap a higher or unfair proportion of the value added, but to actually control the types and the path of technology applied, including their ability to withhold or undermine practices that are not in their economic interests.
  • IPR systems shape interactions, interests and investments in the scientific community in a way that puts economic benefits above long-term sustainability and public interest. This is not only true for the increasing number of researchers in private companies, but has also altered the priorities of public research institutions seeking additional revenues from public private partnerships. This shift has already substantially altered the way that knowledge and information is being shared within the scientific community. The requirement to secure patent claims in advance of sharing new findings not only constrains the freedom and speed of scientific exchange. Patents can also discourage research in areas where future applications of its results appear to be blocked by broad patent claims on key methods or genetic information.

Traditional and indigenous knowledge frequently does not satisfy western standards of publication and disclosure, nor do indigenous and local farmer communities even have concepts of private ownership of knowledge and information or plant and animal genetic resources. Unfair exploitation and biopiracy of their knowledge is a major concern, which may also prevent appropriate exchange among farmer communities, for example adapting to climate change or improving local breeds.