Should we patent plants

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Your Name Teacher’s Name Course Date Should we patent plants? A plant patent is granted to an inventor who has invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state. The progress of science and technology poses continuous challenges to adaptability of patenting plants. The past provides a powerful force in shaping the attitudes and actions of the present. It is therefore useful in matters of debate to trace the history of events relating to patenting plants. It was not until the twentieth century when advances in genetic research faced the patent system with the question of whether plants should be patented or not. Now-a-days, in many countries including United Sates of America are making laws in order to fulfill the obligation under WTO with respect to protection of intellectual property rights. The purpose of this paper is the assessment of the likely effects of patenting plants on the producers and consumers of agricultural products around the world with more focus on the United States of America. A patent is a state-carried ownership which permits the patent holder to enjoy royalties and set conditions for his/her invention over a number of years. Now-a-days, patents are being granted on the genetically modified crops and plants. In the traditional sense, the patent was applied to industrial processes or inventions, i.e. the patentable object was something recognizably a unique product of personal effort. In today’s world, inventiveness is no longer a flash of genius. It has become more of an institutional process. The individuals and inventors of the past have now

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become corporations and governments. In the late middle ages, large seed firms established which now control most of the economy of the agricultural industry. The question arises, “What would be the effect of patenting plants on the farmers as well as the economy of United States of America?” In order to provide an answer to this question, some of the major facts and studies in this regard need to be analyzed. Granting patents on plants excludes anyone else from making, selling or distributing which is obviously beneficial to the multinational companies instead of the common farmers. For the majority, the ethical justification of patenting plants is a question of social ethics. It is not one involving the consideration of plants for their own sake and therefore not the object of discussion either. For a minority, the patenting of plants as such is morally not allowed and contradicts the dignity of living beings with respect to plants. A plant patent lasts for 20 years from the date of filing the patent application and gives the inventor the right to exclude others from asexually reproducing, selling, or using the plant so reproduced. This protection is limited to a plant under the following conditions:

A living plant organism which expresses a set of characteristics determined by its single, genetic makeup, which can be duplicated through asexual reproduction, but which can not otherwise be "made" or "manufactured."


Sports, mutants, hybrids, and transformed plants are comprehended; sports or mutants may be spontaneous or induced. Hybrids may be natural, from a planned breeding program, or somatic in source. While natural plant mutants might have naturally occurred, they must have been discovered in a cultivated area.

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Algae and macro fungi are regarded as plants, but bacteria are not. (“What is a plant patent?” By United States Patent and Trademark Office)

Although some of the above points can be considered as beneficial to some of the people but the adverse effects of patenting plants must also be considered. Part II, Section 5, Article 27 of the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of the Intellectual Property Systems) agreement which is responsible for passing such laws permits its member countries to grant patents for all inventions including both the product or process patent irrespective of the field of technology, provided they fulfill the patentability criteria.

The Third Amendment in the Patents Act 1970 came into force on 1st January, 2005. It incorporated the provisions for granting product patent in all fields of Technology including chemicals, food, drugs & agrochemicals. Firstly, it allows patents on seeds and plants which are not a result of essentially biological process. Thus, it can be interpreted that if one gets a patent, he owns the very plant at large. So, it can be said that the patent providers actually are controlling the lives of many farmers.

In the light of the above rules, it can be interpreted that a company can introduce new biological technologies and then have the rights over that plant on which experiments were being carried out. Genetically modified plants result in genetic pollution whereas the patent holders easily get away with it terming it as their right to perform experiments on those plants.

As the patents are granted on seeds in Canada, the applicability of such unilateral Canadian laws will adversely affect the status of the farmers all around the world. Countries like U.S.A. provide the most tolerant scenario, providing patent option to protect plant and plant varieties. The

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European Union has also issued a Directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions to clarify how patent laws should be applied to biotechnological inventions.

Globalization, WTO trade policies, and domestic negligence have had a devastating effect on the farmers all around the world. Nature has always something beneficial for the mankind but the application of these rules and regulations are providing a total opposite scenario.

Traditionally, farmers save their best seeds and use them again the next year. Now, however, when companies sell seeds under the present laws and agreements that they should be used in a single season, it is forcing farmers to buy the new seeds each year. For the first time in history, farmers are at risk of losing the right to save their seeds.

Patenting plants will tend to reduce the effect of strong farmers rights as genetically modified crops have converted a once innovative and knowledgeable community into a community that can no longer work with the earth which they know, but is mostly dependent on costly, unnatural inputs with which they are unfamiliar.

Seeds Act provide enormous powers to the seed inspectors which give them the right to search, seize and confiscate saved seeds of the poor farmers which acts as an instigator for the poor and at the end of the day, farmers have nothing left in their hands to feed themselves as well as their families. Farmers and small scale business providers should take the initiative to make some rules to avoid such consequences and benefit the farmers and the country’s economy. The need of the day is that the farmers' rights concept should also be extended to patents, keeping in mind the peculiar characteristics of agriculture to reduce the debt caused by unreliable, high dependency and non-renewable seeds.

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In a documentary named “Do we have the right to patent plants and other life forms?” many individuals belonging to different business areas were interviewed. The general view of many people was that the current legislation will help hand power to the multinationals. The future generation will have to pay to benefit from a certain plant and the industries and multinational giants will have a property interest in it. On the other hand, people belonging to industry and corporate were of the view that patenting should be allowed in order for search and development to be commercialized and it is necessary to protect the inventions on the marketplace.

Other negative factors of patenting plants are that one tends to get almost identical products put up by rival firms. Biotechnology is becoming so much sophisticated that products can be made which bind synthetic herbicides, growth hormones or insecticides to a particular crop. A glance over the hundreds of years of history of wars and conquests shows that the ownership of food and plants has always played an integral part. Plant patenting is a matter in which scientists must seriously ask themselves who they are doing their science for and who is being benefitted. The story of gene ownership in my view is really about aggression, power and control. Patenting acts can be limited if a specific amendment is made in the present law relating to seeds, plants and patents.

Agriculture has turned into a negative economy due to largely to three main factors: rising costs of cultivation, tumbling prices of farm supplies, and lack of credit availability for small farmers. So, these issues on patenting life forms and plants will not disappear as the question still remains as to who really owns the biotech industry. These issues need to be addressed in W.T.O.

Thus, farmers' rights must be strengthened, and they must retain their rights to save seeds for growing plants. A Crop Insurance Scheme may be carefully implemented so that farmers who

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are affected by crop failure will be relieved of the subsequent financial burden. Specific attention must be given to cover the lost profits of cash crops such as cotton, sugarcane, and edible oils. Therefore, the patenting of plants should be discouraged in order to maintain the economy of the country.

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Works Cited Dawkins, Kristin. “Should we patent plants?” October 01, 2001. Online. Available: April 14, 2009 Wani, Tabasum. “Patenting Seeds in India” April 01, 2008. Online. Available: April 14, 2009 White, Briscoe. “Patented Plants” Online. Available: April 14, 2009 Willemsen, Ariane. ”Moral consideration of plants for their own sake.” The dignity of living beings with regard to plants (April 2008): Page 20 Do we have the right to patent plants and other life forms? Videotape. Science TV

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