19 - Intellectual property rights and agriculture  pp. 401-428

Intellectual property rights and agriculture

By Jayashree Watal

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Introduction

Intellectual property rights (IPRs) can be loosely defined as legal rights governing the use of creations of the human mind. The term covers a bundle of rights, each with different scope and duration as well as varying purpose and effect. Despite their differences, protection against unfair competition is the underlying philosophy of all IPRs. Such rights generally prohibit third persons from commercially exploiting protected subject matter without the explicit authorization of the right holder during a specified duration of time. This enables right holders to use or disclose their creations without fear of losing control over them, thus helping to disseminate them. IPRs are generally believed to encourage inventive activity and aid the orderly marketing of proprietary goods and services. Such rights are limited to a defined territory and have historically been attuned to the circumstances and needs of different jurisdictions, although some specific international intellectual property laws also apply.

The IPRs that raise distinctive issues for the agricultural sector are patents, plant breeders' rights, and geographical indications. Geographical indications are product labels that identify goods from a specified geographical area and are a form of intellectual property that almost exclusively applies to agricultural products.

Patents generally give their holders the legal right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention for a limited period – usually twenty years from the application date. In return, patent owners must fully disclose their inventions so that technical knowledge is publicly disseminated. All patent laws allow some exceptions.

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