IPR and Biodiversity

What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity refers to the variety of plant and animal lives such as different animals, plants, microorganisms, fungi and bacteria that make up the ecosystem. Each of these species of plant life, animal life and other organisms work together in the natural world, intricately to maintain a balance and support life on earth.

A brief history of IPR in biodiversity

The United States was the first to pass its plant patent Act in 1930. Which was followed by several other nations to extend protection to its plant varieties.

The year 1961 saw the signing of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. However, the treaty came into force in 1968. The countries that signed were among the industrialized nations and together they formed the Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV).

Plant rights used to be recognized in just a few countries. However, upon signing of the TRIPS Agreement, it requires its signatory states to-

● Allow patents for microorganisms and microbiological processes.

● Allow patents or sui generis versions of plant varieties.

Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity or CBD is a multilateral treaty signed among its member states. The objectives of this Convention on Biological Diversity or CBD are that-

● The conversion of biodiversity.

● The sustainable use of components of biodiversity.

● The fair and equitable dissemination of the benefits that arise out of genetic resources.

● To develop the conversion and sustainable use of biodiversity, as a national strategy, in accordance to the World Health Organization or WHOs Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs.

IPR vs. Biodiversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity or CBD has laid down two provisions relating to intellectual property rights. They are-

● Article 16.5: It says that the Intellectual Property Rights promoted by the signatory state should be supportive and should not act as a counter to the CBDs objectives.

● Article 22: It says that CBDs objectives will not hinder the rights and objectives of the member countries upon the existing international agreements unless such implementation of rights and obligations is a detriment or threat to the biodiversity itself.

Impact of IPR on biodiversity

● The existing IPR system has appropriated the resources and knowledge of otherwise economically poor countries and communities, which has further impoverished them and has denied them technological advancement.

● The current IPR system only fosters industrial and commercial interests.

● The trends in IPR is more likely to foster homogenization of medicinal plant use system and agricultural production.

● The small private sectors and even the public sectors could be stifled by the increasing species-wide Intellectual Property Rights.

● The poorer countries would fall more under debt in case of paying substantial royalties to the industrial and technologically advanced countries and big companies. This could bring about a disruption in the environment and society.

● If the trend is towards a tighter IPR regime, then the farmers who innovate on seeds by reusing and freely disseminating such information to other farmers would be discouraged to do so.

● Patenting of life forms suffers from ethical morality in many countries and communities. It is seen as detestable and is thus opposed.


Based on the objectives of the CBD, the TRIPS agreement does the following:

● The TRIPS agreement attempts to homogenize the IPR regimes through militating against the rights of a country or a community to protect their own ideas and innovation according to their own terms.

● It further does not ensure the protection of the rights of the local and indigenous communities.

● It does not equitably share the knowledge compiled in regards to biodiversity. However, it inequitably legitimizes industrial and commercial use of such biodiversity-related knowledge.