Politics of Intellectual Property

Politics of Intellectual Property

Contestation Over the Ownership, Use, and Control of Knowledge and Information

Edited by Sebastian Haunss and Kenneth C. Shadlen

This book offers empirical analyses of conflicts over the ownership, control, and use of knowledge and information in developed and developing countries.

Chapter 4: Illicit Seeds: Intellectual Property and the Underground Proliferation of Agricultural Biotechnologies

Ronald J. Herring and Milind Kandlikar

Subjects: law - academic, intellectual property law


Ronald J. Herring and Milind Kandlikar Genetic engineering in agriculture has enabled new claims of intellectual property in seeds; novelty claimed for patent protection has likewise resonated with new claims of risk, supported by a global politics of opposition to biotechnology. Political framing of “GMOs” as bio-safety risks has produced special regulation of some seeds. Both property claims and regulation – which can function as intellectual property – increase incentives for the emergence of underground seed markets, where evasion of both regimes is possible. Contraband, “gray-market”, “brown-bag” or “creolized” transgenic seeds diffuse widely beneath the radar of both firms and states in a global pattern about which little systematic is known. Some illicit seeds are frauds on farmers, analogous to fake medicines: counterfeit seeds. Others build on rural grass-roots challenges to formal intellectual property claims, and simultaneously constitute continuous challenges to states’ claims of special regulatory authority: stealth seeds. Stealth seeds in particular necessitate rethinking of (1) conventional wisdom on biotechnology’s effect on rural income distribution; (2) constraints on agricultural development presented by restrictive bio-safety and bio-property law; (3) political claims of both developmentalist and anti-biotechnology advocacy networks. The spread of illicit seeds renders problematic conventional wisdom on (1) extent of diffusion of transgenic technology; (2) studies of yield effects of transgenics that fail to measure counterfeit seeds; (3) income effects for small farmers; (4) bio-safety agreements signed in cities. This chapter addresses the causes and consequences of this phenomenon, building on the case of India’s first transgenic crop – Bt cotton – to...

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