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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

3 - Food security and intellectual property rights: Finding the linkages



There is no easy way to identify the policy, economic and legal linkages between food security as a goal and intellectual property rights (IPRs) as an instrument to promote and enhance human creativity and overall social well-being. But connections do exist. Food security is part of the basic human right to food, broadly defined as timely access to sufficient and nutritious food. It is inextricably linked to the right to health, discussed in an earlier chapter. It is linked to intellectual property (IP) inasmuch as plant variety protection (PVP; also known as plant breeders’ rights) and patents, as applied to genetic resources, biodiversity components and biotechnological processes, may be limiting the possibilities of cultivators to freely grow certain crops, and of people to consume resulting agricultural products.

Linkages may also be found in the overall social goals of distinct, long-established legal regimes including those protecting human rights – specifically in regard to the right to food – and IPRs. While pursuing different specific objectives, these regimes should, in theory, be complementary in advancing human welfare and development (Okediji 2007). From a strict legal perspective, IPRs should in no way undermine a very basic human right on which life – literally – depends. When applied not just to whole plants and animals but also to reproductive material including seeds, and to genetic resources in general, IPRs may affect the accessibility and availability of a large number of agricultural products. This is especially the case with IPRs such as patents which allow the rights holder to prevent third parties from commercial exploitation of the exclusive rights as defined in the patent claims.

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