The Shifting Common Spaces of Plant Genetic Resources in the International Regulation of Property

Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of World Intellectual Property, 2008, 11 (3), pp. 176 - 202
Issue Date:
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The appellative "common heritage of mankind" is often used as a description of the property domain that governed plant genetic resources (PGR) at an international level up until the end of the twentieth century. However, the concept is rarely elaborated on. In this article we explore the origins of common property in PGR and the shifting content and shape of the genetic commons over the past several decades. Using the theoretical framework of diverse common property regimes developed by Peter Drahos, we chart the way in which the emergence and interaction of various international regulatory regimes related to PGR reshape common property spaces, rights and obligations. We argue that these international agreements do not regulate a single property domain in isolation, but rather modify the content and boundaries of the complex set of property domains that apply to PGR: private, state, common and public. More than a theoretical conundrum, we show that any realistic appraisal of the implementation of the international regulatory regimes in relation to PGR must acknowledge the conflicting and complex dynamics of these interrelated property domains, as well as the way in which they are being put into place on the ground.
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