Minutes - TRIPS Council - View details of the intervention/statement

Ambassador Chak Mun See (Singapore)
International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV)
171. The representative of the UPOV recalled the reasons for protecting breeders' rights. By the year 2020, the world's population would increase to more than seven billion people. This meant that food production had to be increased by 40 per cent just in order to maintain the present, and in many cases, insufficient status of nutrition. As land resources were scarce and other resources as well, this had to be done mainly by better varieties, i.e. higher yielding varieties, varieties which would have a better resistance against pests and diseases and varieties with a better quality. In order to achieve this goal, it was necessary to give an incentive to plant breeding. The breeder needed the possibility to recover his investment of, sometimes, ten or twenty years of breeding. The UPOV Convention provided a flexible system. It only dealt with the protection of plant varieties. However, member states were of course, and had always been, free to develop additional systems to protect indigenous or traditional knowledge. The UPOV Convention gave a clear definition of what was a variety, i.e. the protected subject-matter – as well as of the minimum scope of the breeder's rights. It contained a set of international standardized criteria for protection. In order to be protected, a variety had to be novel, clearly distinguishable from other varieties being a matter of common knowledge, uniform to a certain degree, and stable when reproduced. This was the set of criteria for protection. The UPOV Convention contained provisions for farmers' privileges to take into account traditional procedures of farmers of saving seed and using it for subsequent sowing, provided that the legitimate interests of the breeders were respected. The UPOV's member states had developed various solutions to this problem. With regard to traditional knowledge, he said that, because a new variety for which protection was sought had to be checked against all varieties of common knowledge, including landraces, the UPOV Convention did not allow the wrongful protection of landraces. It had been said that variety protection would reduce biodiversity. The contrary was the case. The protected varieties under the UPOV system were available for further breeding without the authorization of the right holder. At present, 45,000 protected varieties under the UPOV system represented a broad source of genetic variation. They were made known to the public and they could be used for further breeding. The growing membership of UPOV showed that an increasing number of states were convinced of the advantages of the system. Out of the current 46 member states, almost 20 had adhered to the 1991 Act of the Convention. Some of the members whose representatives had spoken under this agenda item were in the process of joining the UPOV. The Conference of African Trade Ministers which had met in Cairo three days before the present meeting had urged the continued cooperation and technical assistance of the UPOV. This showed that there was, in fact, growing interest in the UPOV system which, as far as he knew, was the only sui generis system for the protection of plant varieties which currently existed.