Canada Needs Improved Intellectual Property Protection
Agriculture accounts for more than eight per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product, providing Canadians with 2.1 million employment opportunities. Additionally, Canada is the world’s fourth largest exporter of agricultural products. Yet despite our size in the global market, Canada falls behind most other developed countries when it comes to our intellectual property protection tools. In fact, a recent international study put Canada at the bottom of the pile in terms of generating funds for re-investment in plant breeding and research.
In 1990, Canada implemented its Plant Breeders’ Rights Act in order to comply with the 1978 International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV 1978). Shortly after that, UPOV adopted a new convention—UPOV 1991. In 1992, Canada signed that convention, indicating its intention to ratify by amending its PBR legislation to conform to UPOV 1991. However, 19 years later Canada’s legislation still complies with UPOV 1978.
Given that one of the main focuses of the new government is on investment and innovation, and that Canada’s failure to comply with UPOV 1991 is having a negative impact on innovation, it seems the time is right for Canada to live up to its 1992 commitment and bring PBR legislation into compliance with the 1991 UPOV convention.
The Canadian Seed Trade Association has proposed amendments that will bring Canada’s PBR Act into accordance with UPOV 1991. These amendments serve to simplify and clarify PBR, and provide increased intellectual property protection. Proposed amendments include changes to include farmers’ exception, allowing farmers who have legitimately obtained their seed to clean and replant it on their own farms. However, the sale of farm-saved seed of a protected variety is still prohibited under UPOV 1991.
Patents and PBR are different and remain so under the proposed amendments to the PBR Act. PBR can only protect plant varieties, but plant varieties cannot be patented in Canada. Traits, on the other hand, can be patented and patent rules prevent farmers from saving seed containing patented traits.
UPOV 1991 includes a clause that increases further breeding by making it compulsory for breeders to allow other plant breeders to use protected material to develop new and different varieties. However, UPOV 1991 also requires the authorization of the breeder of a protected variety before a new variety can be essentially derived from it.
Protecting seed intellectual property provides public and private sector plant breeders with the tools they need to continue to invest in research and develop improved varieties. These varieties may provide higher yields, agronomic benefits and new traits for healthier foods or renewable resources. Creating an improved intellectual property environment in Canada through updating the PBR Act to UPOV 1991 is vital to promoting investment, encouraging seed innovation and keeping Canadian farmers competitive in the global market.
For more information on PBR, visit the CSTA website at www.cdnseed.org.