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.