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Who calls the shots at UPOV? U.S. government and multinational seed industry force UPOV to abandon critique of Terminator

by ETC Group

(Thursday, April 17, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- After two days of intense diplomatic wrangling in Geneva, US patent officials succeeded in turning the expert advice of an intergovernmental secretariat critical of Terminator technology into little more than a promotional paper for plant breeders' rights.

On April 10-11, U.S. government representatives worked hard in Geneva to convince 51 other countries that the expert advice of the Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) is wrong and that UPOV is "not competent" to comment on the possible intellectual property implications of Terminator seeds. The paper in question, a memorandum prepared by UPOV's Secretariat at the request of member governments of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), was presented to an Expert Panel convened by the CBD in Montreal, February 19-21. The Expert Panel met to examine the implications of Terminator seed technology for small farmers, indigenous peoples and local communities. Although UPOV's paper was presented at the Montreal meeting, and had been available on UPOV's web site since January, UPOV bowed to US pressure and gutted the memorandum, replacing it with a sanitized and shorter "position paper" that carries none of the criticisms of the original report.

In withdrawing its memo on GURTs, UPOV has allowed the US government, owner of three patents on Terminator technology, to sanitize and erase the intergovernmental organizations' perspective on an important policy issue with direct relevance to plant intellectual property.

UPOV's new document is completely irrelevant because it fails to respond to the CBD's request and offers no new information about the intellectual property implications of Terminator. The withdrawal of the UPOV memo has also confounded the work of the CBD's Expert Panel on GURTs that met in February to consider the impact of Terminator on small farmers, indigenous people and local communities.

Terminating UPOV? The seedy squabble over Terminator technology illustrates the bigger issue of UPOV's diminishing position in today's rapidly changing intellectual property climate. On the one hand, the Americans and Japanese continue to stretch the boundaries of conventional patents to supersede and override UPOV-style plant variety protection. On the other hand, new technologies such as Terminator threaten to make legal forms of monopoly control over plant germplasm obsolete. Why bother with plant variety protection when Terminator gives you timeless, limitless protection without the need for lawyers and courts?

The Bottom Line: UPOV has succumbed to the strong-arm tactics of the US government and the multinational seed industry, both of whom have vested financial interests in Terminator technology. If member governments of UPOV had any doubts about who determines policy within the Union, they need only examine the recent case of Terminator.

The full text of this document is available on the ETC Group website: http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp?newsid=393.

The original UPOV memo and the correspondence between UPOV and the US government, as well as the ISF letter to UPOV, can be viewed here: http://www.etcgroup.org/documents/USAvsUPOV.pdf

For more information please see, "Terminator Five Years Later," a new ETC Communique that provides additional updates on Terminator, new patents, and more. The full text is available on the ETC web site: http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp?newsid=389