CIOPORA - Uniting breeders, protecting innovations

For more than 50 years, CIOPORA (International Association of Breeders of Asexually Reproduced Ornamental and Fruit Varieties) has been representing breeders in all matters of Intellectual Property (IP) Protection and aims to foster an environment in which the innovation of the breeders can flourish. The main priority of CIOPORA is the constant development and enhancement of systems of Intellectual Property Protection for plant innovation.

Recently, M. B. Naqvi, Editorial Coordinator of Floriculture Today and Chief Coordinator of International Flora Expo series, had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Krieger who has extensive experience in the field of Intellectual Property Protection for plant innovation and has held the position of CIOPORA Secretary General since 2004. Prior to that, Dr. Krieger worked as a lawyer at an international law firm specializing in IP protection, particularly Plant Breeder's Rights, advising agricultural breeders in several hundred court cases up to the European Court of Justice.

by M. B. Naqvi



Edgar Krieger.

Could you explain the IPR & Plant Breeders' Rights in the light of changing global scenario and what is the role of CIOPORA?
Dr. Edgar Krieger (EK): As the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) came into effect in 1995, the idea was that, in return for the consuming countries opening their markets, the developing countries provide for effective protection of Intellectual Property Rights. While the trade part of the deal has made significant progress, in the area of IP Protection, we still see room for major improvements, in particular when it comes to IP protection for plant innovations.

Considering multiple benefits created by plant breeding for our global village, the answer to the question whether its products should be subject to Intellectual Property rights (IPR) becomes self-evident. Like many other types of commercial activity creating benefits for society, such as engineering, medicine or web-technology, plant breeding is an elaborate knowledge-based and labour-intensive enterprise. Its ongoing progress can be only guaranteed if, over a certain span of time, the inventor is granted an exclusive right, which is the essence of any IPR, including Plant Breeder Rights. Such exclusive right neither stands in the way of further progress (because of the breeders’ exemption - a unique feature of PVR laws) nor has it an unlimited effect, because eventually, after the prescribed period of time, an IPR-protected variety will enter the public domain.

Our main task at CIOPORA is to safeguard conditions under which innovators’ IP rights are sufficiently and effectively protected and breeders can continue delivering solutions for today’s and tomorrow’s problems. In order to achieve this on behalf of the global community of breeders of vegetatively reproduced ornamental and fruit plants CIOPORA works with supra-national organizations, governments and all parts of the horticultural value chain to improve the systems of IP protection for plants worldwide.

Considering the implementation of Plant Protection Rights, India, China and some African countries are emerging as the important markets. Could you please explain the perspectives of organizations while working in these markets?
EK: Indeed, nowadays the main production sites of the vegetatively reproduced ornamental and fruit plants are scattered around the world, making the horticultural business truly global. In respect of Plant Variety Protection (PVR) such geographic diversity presents multiple challenges. Harmonization of national regulations across countries is facilitated by the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (“UPOV Convention”), which establishes the minimum requirements for national PVR regimes of countries who accede to the Convention. Despite this fact, today, some important production territories still have not managed to establish effective national PVP regimes or, in some cases, even don’t have any respective laws in place. This demonstrates the complexity of the global situation in IP for plants and CIOPORA’s task.

Yet, the fact is that both well-established and currently emerging producers and exporters of ornamentals and fruits need new and improved varieties, while breeders need guarantees for return on their investment into breeding. Moreover, when emerging producing countries seek to enter the global market, their products must be compliant with the IP laws of the importing countries; otherwise these products can be seized and destroyed. That is why most of our activities at CIOPORA are aimed at assisting governments with the development and improvement of their PVR. We reach out to relevant authorities, maintain continuous dialogue, provide our analysis of the current and draft laws and observe the latest developments. For instance, most recently in February 2018 in New Delhi, CIOPORA delegation met with the representatives of the Indian Ministry of Agriculture and Welfare and the Indian PPV & FR authority. In August 2018, we held a round of productive talks with the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the State Forestry and Grassland Administration in Beijing, before we headed to Washington DC to talk to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Could you please share the points made in your address to the Seminar on EU-India International Workshop on India – EU collaboration in Seed Sector Development held in February in India?
EK: CIOPORA’s Participation in the Workshop was a part of our mission to India in February 2018. Both at the event and further on during the talks with the Indian authorities and industry representatives we emphasized the specific character of vegetative reproduction and the high commercial value of the horticultural produce as earnings per ha in ornamentals and fruits are up to 100 times higher compared to agricultural crops. For CIOPORA, this alone explains a need for special treatment of ornamental and fruit crops by the policy-makers. We call this approach “different-rules-for-different-crops” solution, which means a different regulatory approach to specific crops not involved in subsistence farming.

At the workshop, we also explained that an effective IP protection system for plants would increase the market security for the external players and stimulate the influx of the improved plant varieties hence increasing the competitiveness of the Indian horticulture in the global marketplace. We believe that our ideas resonated with the participants as it was included in the official recommendations of the Workshop to “…consider introducing specific provisions in the Indian law in order to make investments in the horticultural industries more attractive”.

As per our understanding Indian Authorities & Farmers' Right Associations are opposing UPOV Convention. Can you suggest a way for India to gain a fully-fledged momentum in this respect as it is witnessed in the developed countries? What is your opinion?
EK: India is a home to a vast amount of small subsistence farmers and it seems that the scepticism towards effective IP protection for plants is bound to this fact. Stronger IP protection is often associated with an increased financial burden on producers, restricting their right to propagating material and establishing absolute monopolies on certain plant varieties.

In fact, all of these are gross simplifications. The practices implemented worldwide show that IP protection helps to establish a level playing field for all sector participants and provides a stimulus to the commercial development of the local horticulture.

Colombia is a good example: being “de jure” a member of UPOV 1978, instead of acceding to UPOV 1991, the country undertook multiple topical law amendments creating an innovation-friendly and secure climate for breeders, inviting them to work with local growers & bringing their varieties into the country. In fact, the Colombian PVR law corresponds to the UPOV 1991 standard. Breeders interpret it as a demonstration of goodwill and willingness to address their concerns. As to the financial aspects, we know for a fact that in vegetatively reproduced crops, the percentage of royalties in the farmers’ income is very small. In new, highly productive apple varieties the annual royalties amount for only 0.3 – 0.4 per cent of the grower’s annual income. Is it a justified price to pay for nearly two decades of research and development by a breeder and a plant that can generate annual income of 13,500 EUR per ha? We believe that it is.

Governments should treat IP as opportunity and royalties as a small and justified fee for the competitive advantage for the local growers. Certainly, the best-desired outcome would be a well-balanced IP protection safeguarding rights of all involved parties. With the help of IP, a country can catch a momentum and assume its place among leading producers and exporters in certain crops. The absence of or a weak IP protection is harmful to economies as incentives for either local or foreign innovators are not provided.

What major activities are undertaken by CIOPORA while functioning with governmental authorities and intergovernmental bodies?
CIOPORA enjoys observer status at UPOV and is observer or recognized partner of numerous governments and IP offices around the world. This allows us to speak directly to policymakers and to provide them with feedback from the users of their national PVR systems - the plant breeders. We are active in multiple territories across Asia, Latin and North America. We offer support to governments and provide for a greater understanding of our business and its needs. We analyze draft laws and submit our comments to regulations. Another important aspect of our work is our close cooperation with associations of our industry partners in all parts of the world.

CIOPORA has a set of clear-cut positions on such aspects of PVR as Breeders' Exemption, Exhaustion, EDV, Minimum Distance, and Patents on plant inventions. These position papers, democratically adopted by our members, provide a framework for our activities.

Our most recent undertaking is providing education on IP for plants. In 2015 we launched the CIOPORA Academy, an education program on IP designed specifically for the green sector. The program has been very successful, and these tell us that there is a need for more knowledge on the subject throughout the sector. Soon we hope to be able to extend the CIOPORA Academy with web-based distance learning and workshops tailored to specific needs to growers and trade.

Recently, CIOPORA has launched Crop Section (CS) Cut Flowers expanding its CS Gypsophila. What are the main objectives of this newly launched initiative in the light of benefiting the production of Gypsophila?
CIOPORA has several Crop Sections (CS), the crop interest groups within our association. Basically CS provides a platform for breeders to come together and address crop specific issues. Recently, the CS Gypsophila decided to open the section to breeders of all cut flowers, expanding the scope of their work and providing breeders with an opportunity to exchange in other crops.

CIOPORA
CIOPORA is the International Association of Breeders of Asexually Reproduced Ornamental and Fruit Varieties. For more than 50 years, CIOPORA has been representing the breeders in all matters of Intellectual Property (IP) Protection and aims to foster an environment in which the innovation of the breeders can flourish. The main priority of CIOPORA is the constant development and enhancement of systems of Intellectual Property Protection for plant innovation.

CIOPORA formulates its positions on various aspects of IP protection for plants in its position papers. Being a member-based, non-profit organization, CIOPORA enjoys the observer status at the Administrative Council of the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO) and at the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV).

For more information
CIOPORA
https://www.ciopora.org/ 


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