The UPOV accession process: Preventing appropriate PVP laws for new members
By Nirmalya Syam, Shirin Syed, and Viviana Munoz-Tellez
The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) is an intergovernmental organization established by the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants adopted in Paris in 1961. UPOV requires its contracting parties to establish an intellectual property system for plant varieties that favors the interests of commercial plant breeders but does not address the needs of farming systems in developing countries or the rights of smallholder farmers.
The accession process for new countries to UPOV as provided in the UPOV Convention is based on an examination of conformity of the plant variety protection (PVP) law of the acceding country with obligations under the UPOV Convention. Only if the UPOV Council gives a positive decision on the basis of such conformity examination, the acceding state can deposit its instrument of accession. This accession process does not allow new members any flexibility to adapt their national PVP law to their own needs and accommodate their traditional agricultural sector and related public policy issues such as the livelihoods of farmers, sustainable agriculture, and implications for food security. Prior UPOV members have greater flexibility than new members in enacting domestic legislation to implement the obligations under the 1991 Act by adopting their own interpretations of the obligations, which cannot be reviewed by the UPOV Council at the time of their accession to the 1991 Act.
The various acts of the convention were essentially negotiated between developed countries. The UPOV accession procedure is unique compared to intellectual property treaties administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as well as the accession processes in the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Convention on Biological Diversity and its protocols, or the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources. None of these agreements have an obligatory conformity examination of national legislation before accession. In addition, the UPOV Council’s decisions regarding examination of conformity are not always consistent, and significant discretion is exercised by the UPOV Secretariat in interpreting the provisions of the convention as well as their implementation in national law. The UPOV Council’s guidance document for the preparation of laws in accordance with the 1991 Act also provides an extremely narrow interpretation of the provisions of the convention.
Therefore, developing countries should consider whether, instead of accession to UPOV, it would be better for them to adopt their own sui generis system of PVP which allows them to enact a law in accordance with their needs and circumstances. It would also be important for the UPOV Council to adopt a national deference principle in conformity examinations; limit the examinations to a review of adopted laws, as the convention does not mandate the council or the secretariat to intervene in the process of development of national PVP laws; and not undertake additional examinations after a positive decision is given.