Chapter 10: Property rights in human developed genetic material: an economic assessment
Originally, genetic material was for the most part a common pool resource but in recent decades (especially since the middle of the 1980s), newly developed genetic material has increasingly become intellectual property (often private property) as well as some of the methods for producing it. For example, plant variety rights now provide limited property rights to developers of new plant varieties produced using conventional breeding methods. Furthermore, patents bestow private property rights on those who develop genetically modified plants or develop specialized methods for producing such plants. The consequences of granting such property rights, particularly the granting of biotechnology patents (biopatents) have been subject to considerable controversy. Plant variety rights provide some market protection for plant breeders, and patents mainly protect those who are able to develop new varieties of plants or attributes in plants by genetic modification, or who invent specialized biotechnological processes for transforming plants.
Given these privatization trends, legal steps have also been taken to protect farmers’ property rights in genetic material. For example, the International Treaty on Plant and Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), which came into force in 2004, aims to do this. This treaty’s purpose is to protect the access of farmers to seed and other propagating material and to ensure that they are fairly compensated for the use by others of their genetic material, for example, by developers of new genetically modified crops using this material to produce new plant varieties. However, this aim conflicts with another...
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