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UPOV: The Impact of Plant Variety Protection

August 2006

Florist shops dazzle with flowers of ever more diverse colors, petal shapes and perfumes. Market displays of fruit and vegetables offer tempting new varieties – bigger, plumper, more flavorsome or appealing to the eye. Food items, such us bread, potatoes, rice, are cheap and of a high quality. These advances all depend on the work of plant breeders.

Today breeders, whether individual enthusiasts, farmers, research institutions or multinational corporations, work to develop new plant varieties. Improved varieties are a necessary and cost-effective means of improving productivity, quality and marketability for farmers and growers. However, breeding new varieties of plants requires a substantial investment of skills, labor, material resources, money and time – it can take more than 15 years to bring a new variety to the market. Intellectual property (IP) protection is therefore afforded to plant breeders as an incentive for the development of new varieties to contribute to sustainable progress in agriculture, horticulture and forestry.

The Geneva-based International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) is an independent intergovernmental organization. Its mission is to provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection, with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants for the benefit of society. UPOV administers the UPOV Convention, the purpose of which is to ensure that its members acknowledge the achievements of breeders of new varieties of plants by granting them an intellectual property right on the basis of a set of clearly defined principles. The opportunity to obtain certain exclusive rights in respect of new varieties provides successful plant breeders with a better chance of recovering their costs and accumulating the funds necessary for further investment. Without such rights, there would be nothing to prevent others from reproducing the new variety and selling it on a commercial scale, with no benefit accruing to the breeder.

Report on the impact of plant variety protection

The UPOV Report on the Impact of Plant Variety Protection, published in 2005, concludes that the plant variety protection offered under the UPOV system is effective in its purpose as an incentive for the development of new, improved varieties of benefit to farmers, growers and consumers. The report, the first of its kind since the adoption of the UPOV Convention in 1961, includes a study on the effects of plant variety protection in five countries, namely, Argentina, China, Kenya, Poland and the Republic of Korea.

Commenting on the report,  Kamil Idris (who is UPOV Secretary-General as well as the Director of WIPO) said, "Some very clear messages have emerged from this study, perhaps the most important being that the introduction of the UPOV system of plant variety protection, and membership of UPOV, can open a door to economic development, particularly in the rural sector." He added, "An important feature of the study is that it indicates the range of ways in which plant variety protection can produce benefits, and also demonstrates that the benefits differ from country to country, reflecting their specific circumstances." The President of the Council of UPOV, Miss Enriqueta Molina Macías from Mexico, noted that the UPOV system gave farmers, growers and breeders access to the best varieties produced by breeders throughout UPOV member territories. "Under the UPOV system, a breeding cycle of progression can continue to maximize the benefits of plant variety protection and plant breeding for the future," she said.

Benefits of protection

The report highlights the many and varied benefits of new plant varieties. Notable among these are:

  • economic benefits, such as varieties with improved yields which lead to reductions in the price of end-products for consumers, or improved quality leading to higher value products with increased marketability;
  • health benefits, for example through varieties with improved nutritional content,
  • environmental benefits, such as varieties with improved disease resistance or stress tolerance; and
  • pleasure, such as that afforded by ornamental plants.

Number of new varieties

With the expansion of UPOV, the importance of plant variety protection has grown in different regions, as illustrated by the number of applications.

Individual country reports demonstrated increases in the overall numbers of varieties developed after the introduction of plant variety protection. These included, for example, staple crops in the agricultural sector, such as barley, maize, rice, soybean, wheat; important horticultural crops, such as rose, Chinese cabbage, pear; traditional flowers, such as peony, magnolia, camellia in China; forest trees, such as poplar in China; and traditional crops, such as ginseng in the Republic of Korea. The reports brought out the importance of extending protection to all genera and species in a country in order to receive the full benefits of plant variety protection.

The Impact Study also revealed that the introduction of the UPOV plant variety protection system and, in particular, membership of UPOV was accompanied by a large number of variety applications by foreign (non-resident) breeders, particularly in the ornamental sector. This was seen as enhancement of the global competitiveness for producers.


Domestic breeding

Betsy: a Strelitzia variety, bred by Mrs. Mary Consolata Muriithi, from Kenya, whose application for PVP is under examination.

Argentina reported on an increase in the number of domestic breeding entities, mostly in the private sector, for example, in soybean and wheat. The Republic of Korea showed an increase in the number of breeders of certain crops, such as rice and rose. Poland reported an increase in the number of commercial breeding entities and an overall increase in the number of improved varieties produced, despite a reduction in state-funded breeding and a decline in the overall number of domestic breeding entities. China reported on the stimulation of commercial breeding activities in domestic public research institutes and domestic seed companies, with an increase in the number of breeders (e.g. maize and wheat in Henan Province) linked to increased numbers of plant variety protection applications. The protected varieties generated income for breeders, including public research institutions and agricultural universities, and encouraged further investment in plant breeding.

The Republic of Korea reported on the stimulation of certain sectors of plant breeding. For example, individual breeders (farmer breeders) and university researchers entered the rice-breeding sector. Since the introduction of PVP there had been an important transformation in the rice breeding sector to meet the evolving demands for rice. In the sector of rose breeding, private-breeders have appeared, leading to an increased number of domestic varieties. Kenya reported a facilitation of public/private partnerships for plant breeding, including partnership between international research institutes and Kenyan seed companies, and the emergence of new types of breeders (university researchers, private farmer breeders).

An effective plant variety protection system can provide important benefits in an international context by removing barriers to trade in varieties, thereby increasing domestic and international market scope. Breeders are unlikely to release valuable varieties into a country without effective protection. With access to valuable foreign-bred varieties, domestic growers and producers have more scope to improve their production and to export their products. Moreover, as a consequence of the breeder’s exemption in the UPOV Convention (whereby acts for the purpose of breeding other varieties are not subject to any restriction), domestic breeders also gain access to valuable varieties for use in their breeding programs. The report notes that this international aspect is an important means of technology transfer and effective use of genetic resources.

A summary of the UPOV Report on the Impact of Plant Variety Protection ) is available online.  The full Report (UPOV Publication No. 353(E) or can be requested from the UPOV Secretariat at upov.mail@upov.int or by phone on +41 22 338 9155.

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The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.