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

Ambassador Federico A. González (Paraguay)
Bolivia, Plurinational State of
13. The representative of Plurinational State of Bolivia said that, at the TRIPS Council's meeting in March 2011, his delegation had submitted a second communication (IP/C/W/554) concerning the review of Article 27.3(b). The adoption of Article 27.3(b) of the TRIPS Agreement had been conducive to an extension of the patent system to life forms and their components and to manipulations based on them. Furthermore, laws allowing the patenting of life in all its diversity had become widespread and his delegation was witnessing the spread and multiplication of patents on forms of plant, animal or human life or on their components such as genes, cells, substances, proteins or tissues. 14. Figures showing the exact extent of such patents were scarce, but those that did exist gave some idea of the consequences of the adoption of Article 27.3(b). Already in 2000 there had been patents on 500,000 genes of living organisms, and 918 patents had been awarded in 1999 for seeds as essential as maize, rice, soya, sorghum or wheat. By 2005, 20 per cent of all human genes had been patented in the United States. It appeared that 660 animals had been patented by 2010 and patents awarded on animal tissues or cells had increased. And those figures represented only the tip of the iceberg. The tendency was undoubtedly even deeper and more widespread. 15. For Bolivia, the proliferation of patents on life forms was a source of concern, primarily for moral or ethical reasons, or in other words because of the way it conceived of life. Manipulated and patented life forms were labelled biotechnologies, but life did not stop being life because human beings discovered or developed it or because it met the requirements for patentability. A genetically modified microorganism, a gene for which a function had been discovered, or a patented seed, remained forms of life even if they were assigned names of biotechnology inventions. 16. Many peoples and cultures around the world saw life as the foundation and source of everything, as most precious possession, as something special which should on no account be treated as a thing or a commodity. To treat life as some kind of technology was unacceptable. Being so special and fundamental, life, whatever its form, should not fall within the scope of patentable material or be the subject of exclusive use rights or private monopolies. 17. He said that the current system under Article 27.3(b) was fundamentally unjust. For thousands of years, the peoples of Bolivia, like other peoples, had cared for life and safeguarded biodiversity, combining, crossing and developing new varieties and identifying their characteristics. Plants and animals had been identified, domesticated and developed for food, health or industry without a single claim to exclusive rights being made. Indeed, the knowledge and technologies acquired had been shared with the world. But today, the developed countries were claiming monopolies on resources from the very biodiversity that Bolivia had preserved, identified and developed. 18. Article 27.3(b) allowed a handful of transnational companies to appropriate and privatize our collective heritage, which was no more or less than the silent theft of centuries of knowledge, technologies and practices developed collectively by the peoples. Not only did the patenting of life raise issues of justice, or morality and ethics, it had serious consequences and adverse effects. It was said that the patenting of life was necessary to stimulate innovation and the development of biotechnologies, and that without patents there would be no one to work out solutions to humanity's major problems. 19. The fact was that the patenting of life encouraged only a certain type of innovation: the kind that enabled the large transnationals to strengthen their monopolies and create more dependency for peoples, the kind that suited large scale investors and the owners of wealth. And when there were no potential markets for establishing monopolies, no solutions were worked out. The gains that monopolies obtained through patents were not put towards financing research and innovation, but ended up in the pockets of large scale investors. 20. With the patenting of life, the future of the planet was put in the hands of a few transnationals whose sole aim was profit and not the common good of humanity. To prohibit the patenting of life would no doubt thwart their desire for gain, control and monopoly. But there had been and still were other models for innovation and research. Monopoly was not the only means of encouraging and funding innovation and research. Not all the players involved in research and innovation were driven by an unquenchable thirst for gain or by the profit motive alone. There were many who in fact already worked in a monopoly free environment seeking solutions for the future of humanity and the good of peoples. The complaint heard increasingly among scientists now was that the patenting of life had adverse effects on innovation and limited the possibilities of research, particularly when such fundamental elements as genes were patented. 21. The adverse effects of that system far outweighed the benefits. It was a system that allowed patent owners to restrict access to innovations and fetter the freedom of those that use them. That had serious adverse consequences for peoples, particularly in terms of health and access to medicines and treatment, or in terms of agriculture and food and access to seeds. The patenting of seeds was without doubt one of the main threats since under the patent system royalties could be extracted from peoples and farmers thus limiting their freedoms and restricting their traditional and ancestral practices. Farmers the world over had lost the freedom to trade their seeds and soon they would have to pay royalties to use seeds that belong to them. Drugs were sold at exorbitant prices by companies that have sole rights to produce and use them. Indigenous peoples saw their traditional practices threatened and soon they would have to pay royalties to carry on using their traditional medicines. 22. A future worrying tendency that had been identified was the race to patent plants and plant components that had valuable traits for coping with climate change. Those resources, on which the future of humankind might well depend, were now in the hands of a few transnationals, the very companies that were largely responsible for climate change and to which peoples would end up paying royalties in order to use seeds that they developed using biodiversity. By 2008, it would appear that more than 500 patents had been registered on plant genes that were resistant to climate change. 23. The way forward was not for each one to privatize and patent biodiversity and knowledge, but rather to free the world of all monopolies and exclusive use rights over what people hold to be most fundamental in that world, namely life, biodiversity and their components. 24. In view of the foregoing, he reiterated Bolivia's proposal to review and amend Article 27.3(b) with a view to prohibiting the patenting of life forms and parts thereof.