info4action archive


GE - conquest by patents

I didnt' think I'd seen this go up on the list... it's a very good description
of the problems we have with TRIPS/WTO...

(From: The Pakistan Observer, Islamabad, Aug 22, 1999)
>By Devinder Sharma
>Notwithstanding India's call for a review of certain provisions of the
>Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) at the forthcoming
>Seattle Ministerial conference, the United States is not willing to open up
>the controversial WTO-related patent regime in the new round.
>For the US, an unequal and unjust patent regime being enforced globally is
>perhaps an easy way to demonstrate its economic conquest of the South. After
>all, patents provide monopoly domination not only through technological
>supremacy but also by extending control over the biological wealth and the
>traditional knowledge of the gene-rich developing countries.
>Not to be left behind, the European Union too has joined the mad race to
>claim broad-spectrum patents over transgenic plants and animals, and also on
>human genes and cell lines. With the European Patent Office announcing the
>acceptance of such patent claims from September 1, the world is fast moving
>towards an era where life forms, including plants and animals, will be
>remote-controlled by a few private conglomerates.
>Bolstered by the recent developments in Europe, the US is sure to block
>every move to renegotiate the TRIPs Agreement. A spokesperson for the US
>government has already made it clear that America finds no justification in
>India's repeated plea to make the TRIPS pact more compatible with
>Multilateral Environmental Agreements like the Convention on Biological
>Diversity. At the same time, India is asking for a balanced approach in
>promoting developmental objectives of intellectual property rights, through
>the mechanisms of transfer of technology from the holders of proprietary
>technology that needs to be made mandatory. India's stand has support from
>other developing countries including Brazil, Costa Rica, Egypt, Honduras,
>Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan and the Philippines.
>Unmindful of the growing hostility in the developing countries over the
>increasing tendency to seek patents on 'indigenous knowledge' and products
>that have been in practice over centuries, the US finds nothing wrong with
>its outdated patenting regime. Still worse, it refuses to share the benefits
>by way of transfer of technology or provide adequate compensation to the
>communities or countries from where the resources and the accompanying
>knowledge were drawn. Nor is it willing to provide additional protection for
>geographical indications of origin for products such as basmati rice and
>certain varieties of tea, apart from the limited wines and spirits.
>While the US is not convinced with the arguments being advanced by the
>developing countries for placing TRIPs into another round of intellectual
>property negotiations to be launched at Seattle, it has categorically stated
>that its interests lie much more towards ensuring effective implementation
>and enforcement of the agreement. "This is for us is the single most
>important thing about the TRIPs Agreement now," an official said recently.
>For the US and for that matter the world's richest trading block, the
>Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the thrust is
>on ensuring that the patent laws are globally harmonised making it easier
>for the rich and the industrial countries to amass biological wealth and the
>traditional knowledge that comes along with it. Meanwhile, the developing
>countries are being asked to seek answers to their queries at several
>upcoming reviews of implementation and substance of the agreement. The TRIPs
>Council is presently reviewing Article 27.3(b) of the agreement, which
>allows member countries to exempt from patentability plant and animals but
>to provide protection through an effective "sui generis" system.
>What is not being realised is that while the developing countries are
>engaged in ascertaining whether the plant varieties need to be patented or
>protected under national legislations, the US and Europe are meanwhile
>drawing patents on the genetically-engineered varieties thereby creating
>hurdles in future scientific research in agriculture in these countries.
>Developing countries are obliged to implement Article 27.3(b) to provide
>some sort of protection to plant varieties under an "effective sui generis"
>system without realising that the "sui generis" that is being talked about
>ends all privileges by Jan 1, 2000. In other words, the TRIPs Agreement is
>very cleverly asking member states to grant legal monopolies over the very
>basis of food security: crop biodiversity.
>Like other developing countries, India too has failed to see the writing on
>the wall. Its assertion that instead of harmonising international patent
>laws what is more important is to keep the intellectual property rights on
>plant biodiversity at the minimal is not going to be an effective bargaining
>tool. Instead, India should support the Philippine initiative which is
>opposed to patents on life forms, and argues that the "sui generis" system
>proposed under Article 27.3(b) does not have to be in line with the Union
>for Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV). It, therefore, calls for the
>1999 TRIPs review to get biodiversity out of the jurisdiction of WTO in
>order to protect the rights of the farmers and local communities.
>Unfortunately, the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity
>which should actually strive to end the free plunder of genetic resources of
>the South and in turn uphold the provisions enshrined in the legally binding
>treaty, is in all probability acting at the behest of the multinational
>companies. At no stage has the CBD made a forceful representation for
>keeping the biological diversity out of the purview of the patent regime.
>Nor is it likely to for the simple reason that all its heads and senior
>executives come from the developed countries and are therefore protective of
>their own national interests.
>The recent decision of the scientific and technical body of the CBD to
>indirectly approve the application of the infamous terminator technology (or
>what the companies call as controlling gene expression) is a pointer towards
>the CBD's hidden linkages with the multinational seed and biotechnology
>companies. It is time that the farmers' and other groups in the Third World
>call for a change in the CBD hierarchy to make it more democratic and
>transparent. Member states too have to express their displeasure at the
>failure of the CBD to fight aggressively to protect the rights of the local
>communities in the developing countries.
>Accepting UPOV is the first step towards an economic hara-kiri. Although
>UPOV now has an effective strength of 40 member countries, mainly
>industrialised nations, it provides strong monopolies to the seed companies
>and restricts farmers' rights and privileges. Developing countries therefore
>must keep out of UPOV in their own economic interest. Or else, these poor
>and under-developed economies will make it much easier for the multinational
>companies to pronounce their conquest over the Third World. #
>(Devinder Sharma is a New Delhi-based food and trade policy analyst)
>Address: Post Box # 4, New Delhi-110 024, India.
>Tel: 91-11-656 2326