Ownership “rights” over all life forms, from genes to whole organisms are being handed over to private corporations.

Biodiversity is being reduced to genetic information and being patented so fast that most patent applications are purely speculative.

A patent is a form of monopoly right to profit from a product for a fixed term. Patents were originally designed for the inventors of mechanical devices to profit from their inventions. Powerful Agro-chemical and pharmaceutical sectors in Europe and North America have pushed for patents to be redefined to include biological “discoveries” including plant varieties, animal, plant and microbe genes and genetic engineering processes.
The US, EU and Japanese governments, representing this corporate lobby is using the World Trade Organisation to force all it’s member states to enact patents on plant varieties.

Genetic material and traditional plants which have been bred over generations and held in common have been stolen and patented in another country by corporate industry. This has become known as biopiracy. Patents have been granted in the North on such traditional crops as Indian Turmeric, Neem and Basmati, Andean Quinoa and naturally coloured cottons, Ethiopian Teff, Amazonian Ayahuasca and Indonesian ilang-ilang.[1]
Some of these patents have now been successfully fought and over-turned. Indigenous plants that have been in traditional use for generations are not “novel”, which is supposed to be criteria for receiving a patent.

The richest nations of the world are poor in species diversity. The regions with the greatest wealth of biodiversity are nearer the equator, within the “third world”. There is a massive flow of materials for plant breeding from the South to the North. Cultivars are taken from farmers’ fields or research establishments in the South and, often after very little “breeding” work, are patented in the North. Pharmaceutical giants are always on the look out for plants from which to extract active ingredients for new drugs. More than 7,000 compounds used in the Western pharmaceuticals are derived from indigenous Southern plants [2]. Active compounds from traditional cures have in the past been synthesised chemically in order to mass produce drugs. The industry is planning to use less expensive and potentially even more dangerous genetic engineering techniques to produce new drugs and treatments.

DNA has been collected without knowledge or consent from the Guayami people in Panama, the Hagahai of New Guinea and the people of the Solomon Isles, and made subject to patents in the North. In the US a man discovered that the doctor who operated him had secretly patented cells from his sick spleen. The California Supreme Court ruled that the man, John Moore, was not entitled to any rights on his own cells after they had been removed from his body.[3]

TRIPs is the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property. TRIPs force WTO member states to grant corporations the right to protect their ‘intellectual property’, in seven areas including copyright and trademark protection, patents and industrial designs.
Under a section of the TRIPS agreement (Section 27.3) all WTO member states are obliged to have patent legislation in place that covers plant varieties.

The TRIPs agreement is the brainchild of an industry coalition with members from the US, the EU and Japan. The Intellectual Property Committee (IPC) took the first initiative, a lobby group that brought together 13 major US corporations including DuPont and Monsanto. GATT, the body that preceded the WTO, was selected as the organization through which to enforce patents, dubbed “Intellectual Property Rights”, on the world.

After a lobby campaign of the WTO and at the national level, an industry paper on the “Basic Framework for GATT Provisions on Intellectual Property” was presented at the Uruguay Round negotiations in 1988. Not surprisingly, the position put forth by the US delegation was strikingly similar to industry’s proposal.
James Enyart of Monsanto commented
“Industry has identified a major problem in international trade. It crafted a solution, and sold it to our own and other governments.”

Powerful US delegations at trade talks are made up of representatives of corporate industry.[4] The US pushed for TRIPS to require the fullest patent protection possible worldwide. “Third world” nations opposed the introduction of any Intellectual Property Rights (IPR’s) into GATT. The EU fought for an exclusion of IPR related to plant varieties and succeeded in gaining a clause in the treaty allowing member countries to develop their own patenting system.

The plant patenting system which the US and E.U. would like to see enforced under WTO rules is UPOV (Union of Protection of new Varieties).
In 1991, the European-led UPOV created a harsh new convention covering plant varieties that makes it illegal for farmers to save seed and shifts the burden of proof in cases where farmer may have allegedly broken patent law from the company to the farmer.
UPOV is based on the needs of industrial agriculture, especially through its Distinction-Uniformity-Stability criteria.
It promotes chemical dependent hybrids, uniform crops that are more vulnerable to pests and disease.
The U.S. the World Bank and the WTO are pressurizing countries to adapt this system, especially the “third world”.

In February 1999, UPOV scandalously succeeded in making eleven of the poorest countries in Africa actually believe that they had to join UPOV to fulfill their TRIPS obligations. The rules say that as nations with “least developed” status, these nations had until 2006 to decide whether to join UPOV or to adapt their own system.[5]

In 1998 the European Union created its own patent legislation. The European Patent Directive followed an unprecedented lobbying campaign by the agricultural and pharmaceutical biotechnology industry that broke all financial records. The campaign was co-ordinated by EuropaBio, a corporate lobby group formed in 1996 by all the companies with an interest in biotechnology operating in Europe including Astra-Zeneca, Novartis, Monsanto Europe, AgrEvo, DuPont, Nestl?, Novo Nordisk, Rh?ne-Poulenc, Unilever, Bayer, Akzo Pharma, Eli Lilly, Hoechst, Hoffmann-La Roche, Sandoz, Schering and SmithKline Beecham.[6]

The industry bodies blackmailed disabled people and patient’s groups into supporting their campaign. People with life threatening diseases were told that miracle drugs would be developed only if research costs could be recouped through a patenting system. On the day of the vote a demonstration of people in wheelchairs zho were carted inside the parliament, bearing the industry slogan “No patent, No Cure” on yellow T-shirts. MEP’s that had voted against a similar Patent law only two years before were clearly swayed by emotional blackmail without ever coming to the realisation that this was an industry and not a patient’s campaign. Under the Directive genes, cells, plants, animals, human body parts and genetically modified or cloned human embryos and even certain types of genetically engineered half-human, half-animal are all patentable with few restrictions.


[1.] “TRIPS versus CBD, Global Trade and Biodiversity in Conflict” April 1998, A report by Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN) and The Gaia Foundation

[2.] “The Sustainable Development Effects of the WTO TRIPS Agreement: A Focus on Developing Countries” 1996, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) Working Paper, Aaron Cosbey

[3.] “IPRs, Genes, and life-patenting”, Chakravarthi Raghavan South-North Development Monitor SUNS August 1999

[4.] “WTO Millennium Bug: TNC Control Over Global Trade Politics” The Corporate Europe Observer.

[5.] “TRIPS Traps for Small Farmers, The Impact of Intellectual Property Rights on Sustainable Food Security and Farm Families Remains to be Felt”, RAFI Genotypes 19 May 1999

[6.] “Forcefeeding Europe: The Biotech Lobby” published by ASEED Europe SEE ALSO · “No Patents on Life!” A Cornerhouse Briefing · “Indigenous Peoples’ Seattle Declaration on the occasion of the Third Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization 30 November – 3 December 1999”

“Beyond UPOV: Examples of developing countries preparing non-UPOV sui generis plant variety protection schemes for compliance with TRIPS”, GRAIN July 1999,