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

Mr. Martin Glass (Hong Kong, China)
Bolivia, Plurinational State of
24. The representative of the Plurinational State of Bolivia said that, as stated in document IP/C/W/545, the review of Article 27.3(b) was part of the mandate of the Doha Work Programme under paragraph 19 of the Ministerial Declaration. It was an implementation related issue under paragraph 12 of the Ministerial Declaration, which mentioned the adoption of a Decision to address implementation problems (WT/MIN(01)/17) and stated that "negotiations on outstanding implementation issues shall be an integral part of the Work Programme". 25. In the 15 years since the adoption of Article 27.3(b), WTO Members had witnessed a race to patent life forms and parts thereof, a trend that was extremely worrying given its ethical and moral implications and its adverse effects in areas of major importance to developing countries, such as agriculture, food, climate change and health. 26. Article 27.3(b) established Members' obligation to grant patents for micro organisms and microbiological and non biological processes. That provision also allowed Members to award patents for plants, animals and biological processes, thus promoting a new phase in which capitalism expanded into nature in a way that had never been seen before, and which amounted to the privatization of life itself. Consequently, the last 15 years had seen a proliferation of patents and patent applications concerning a wide range of life forms, including human life itself or parts thereof, such as proteins, genes, gene sequences, cells, cell lines and tissue. 27. Many reports had documented that phenomenon. In 1999, 918 patents had been awarded for rice, maize, soya and sorghum seed; most of those had gone to just six multinational corporations. In 2000, an investigation had revealed that patents had been pending or had been granted on more than 500,000 genes or partial gene sequences of living organisms. Of those, over 9,000 patents involved 161,195 whole or partial human genes. In 2005, a study had shown that nearly 20 per cent of all human genes had been patented in the United States, in other words 4,000 of almost 24,000 human genes. 28. The patentability of life forms promoted by Article 27.3(b) raised serious ethical and moral concerns for many cultures and populations around the world. Those concerns had been raised on a number of occasions by groups of developing countries and international bodies. For example, according to the 1999 United Nations Human Development Report, the current patent system was leading to "a silent theft of centuries of knowledge from developing to developed countries". 29. The extension of patents to life forms was based on the idea that life forms and parts thereof were human inventions and, as such, patentable. That concept promoted the commercialization of life and nature, reducing their value to nothing more than a mercantile and commercial vision. Such a vision was far removed from the culture, values and beliefs of many peoples and societies, for whom life was something sacred and special that could not be considered a human invention or treated as just another commodity. Above all, its use should not be monopolized by a select few. 30. A system that treated human beings and their vital characteristics as merchandise reduced the value of life to an economic value and consigned humanity to a lower level of moral development. Humanity and human progress should not be measured only in economic and commercial terms, but rather in terms of human values and dignity. 31. A serious consequence of Article 27.3(b) had been the concentration of patents on life forms in the private sector, most notably in the hands of a few multinational corporations based in developed countries. The situation was especially worrying in the seed sector, where 67 per cent of the market was controlled by the ten largest corporations, and around 40 per cent by only two of them. That situation could also be seen in other areas of biotechnology and should be taken very seriously indeed. 32. Patents on life forms also had a negative impact in terms of access. Some developing countries were concerned that the rights afforded to patent holders could restrict the use of their genetic resources, as well as the use of those resources by indigenous peoples. Patents on life forms and parts thereof could also adversely affect the exports and commercial activities of developing countries. 33. The granting of patents on life forms and parts thereof was often justified on the basis that it encouraged innovation and promoted research. However, there was increasing evidence that that premise was not entirely true, and that dominant and concentrative model also frustrated innovation, stifled research and had a negative impact on scientific progress, something already highlighted by numerous academics, experts and even Nobel Prize winners in a broad range of scientific fields. 34. The effects of allowing the patenting of life forms and parts thereof were particularly felt in the area of agriculture and food due to the unprecedented control of the food chain by a small number of corporations. The combination of the concentration of market control with the ability to patent had paved the way for a comprehensive takeover of genetic resources, seeds and by products by certain corporations, which had led to a greater concentration of power and, in turn, ever increasing food prices, the inhibition of agricultural innovation and the undermining of farmers' rights. That constituted an assault on the foundations of age old traditional farming practices and undermined one of the farmers' oldest rights, which was to save, harvest and replant seeds. 35. The negative impact of biological material patents in the area of food had been condemned on a number of occasions. For instance, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food had informed the General Assembly that "the expansion of intellectual property rights can constitute an obstacle to the adoption of policies that encourage the maintenance of agrobiodiversity and reliance on farmers' varieties. Intellectual property rights reward and encourage standardization and homogeneity, when what should be rewarded is agrobiodiversity, particularly in the face of the emerging threat of climate change […]. In addition, intellectual property rights […] can constitute a direct impediment to innovation by farmers". Another noteworthy factor was that the companies concerned were starting to profit from one of the most dangerous threats to humanity, climate change. Several corporations had joined the race to patent plants and parts thereof that could represent strategic resources for mankind in the future. 36. In 2008, a report by the ETC Group had revealed that some 532 patents had been requested by or granted to corporations for plants and genes that were resistant to climate change (otherwise known as "climate ready" due to their resistance to drought, floods and frost). Although the historical responsibility for climate change lay with developed countries, it could be anticipated that such action might lead to developing countries being asked to pay for access to resources that, in many cases, they themselves had developed and that were critical for combating climate change. 37. The public health consequences of allowing the patenting of life forms and parts thereof could also be very severe. Such patents could have a negative effect on innovation in the sector, impede access to relevant technologies and hamper access to medicines, vaccines and essential treatment for those unable to pay for them. 38. That new phase of capitalism focused on patenting and privatizing life. There was economic greed to patent life. And yet the patenting of biodiversity, seeds and related medicines posed a significant threat. The process led to a proliferation of laws and policies under which life was considered a patentable material, whereas in the past it had been unthinkable to treat life and any part of it as an object or something that could be patented. 39. In conclusion, he emphasized that the patenting of life forms was simply unacceptable. The patenting of life forms posed a serious danger to all mankind, but in particular to developing countries. The control of life forms and parts thereof lay in the hands of a few multinationals based in developed countries. Such corporations might eventually be allowed to exercise a monopoly over the use of those life forms and parts thereof. That situation was critical for developing countries, for which important decisions relating to food, health and climate change would be resolved in the interests of maximizing profits rather than the well being of mankind. Patents on life forms and parts thereof threatened the traditional practices of indigenous farmers and peoples, as well as the exports of developing countries. The costs of such a system exceeded the benefits. That problem affected all of mankind and required an international solution. Bolivia therefore proposed that Article 27.3(b) be amended to prohibit the patenting of all life forms and parts thereof. In the view of his delegation, that was an essential part of the Doha Development Round mandate and the best contribution that the WTO could make to achieve the development objectives.