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The protection of IP rights for plant varieties is very important for future innovations in yields, disease reduction and food safety, as Tom Phillips discovers.
Nowhere is IP protection of plants more important than in the fertile lands of Latin America. Innovations in seeds have led to increased yields, the eradication of plant diseases and improvements in food safety. Meanwhile, the plant varieties industry has flourished, but only in countries where the enforcement of breeders’ rights is possible.
It’s an IP area that has seen some big changes. “Fifteen years ago, no-one wanted to pay royalties. Now it’s easier to negotiate with the growers, and plant variety protections are generating very important investments in the agricultural sector, particularly roses,” explains Alfonso Rivera, a partner at Tobar ZVS Spingarn in Ecuador, whose clients include some of the world’s biggest rose breeders.
“The roses market is very like the fashion market. People request different varieties and colours all the time, so there are breeders around the world creating new roses to meet demand,” he says.
Because copying is easy (simply by taking a cutting), many breeders find their protected plants being harvested by unauthorised growers—sometimes in vast numbers.
“Many farmers sign an agreement to plant, for example, 100,000 of one variety but they plant double that, so the breeders have to check that the farmers are planting what they agreed,” Rivera explains.
“There are other cases where the farmers simply plant roses without any agreement. Then we have to deal with the authorities and try to make them come to the fields, with experts, and confirm the variety and number of plants, so the authority can order the farmer not to sell the variety until royalties are paid.”
Helped by a strong plant varieties IP system, Ecuador and Columbia are among the world’s biggest exporters of roses. At the other end of the scale, Mexico’s farms often remain off-limits to lawyers and can be “risky” for lawyers, says Rivera.
“There are breeders around the world creating new roses to meet demand.” - Alfonso Rivera, Tobar ZVS Spingarn
Peru’s “very good IP laws” make it a promising market. The distance of farms from the cities is a problem, however.
“It’s more of an infrastructure issue but it could be an important market in future,” he predicts.
It isn’t just flowers that benefit from plant varieties protection. IP protection is essential for the wider agricultural sector too.
As Aurora Ortega, a textile engineer, says, there is a lot at stake, including “breeders’ rights, new varieties of plants, and the benefits of them in agriculture, especially for farmers, national institutes, enterprises and society in general”.
Alfonso Rivera, Aurora Ortega and María del Carmen Arana will discuss “New colours, aromas and greater performance: how is plant variety protection evolving?” on October 30, 10:45am to 12:00pm, in Limatambo 3,4,5.
plant varieties, ASIPI 2019. patent, innovations, plant patents, breeders rights, Tobar ZVS Spingarn, food safety