Inventing Seed: The Nature/s of Intellectual Property in Plants

Pion Ltd
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Society and Space, 2008, 26 (4), pp. 676 - 697
Issue Date:
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This paper explores some of the inequities in the ways in which intellectual property has been applied to agricultural plant genetic resources, focusing primarily on patents. In particular, it is concerned with the importance of what counts as `nature in making the distinction between something that is `invented and something that is merely `discovereda distinction that is at the heart of patent law (although not always made in these terms). While discoveries are understood to be mere revealings of nature, genuine inventions are considered to be human products, and therefore eligible for patent protection. What counts as nature in this discourse, and which kinds of human labour are taken to be genuinely inventive, is, therefore, a highly consequential issue. Ultimately, I argue for both the exposure of the noninnocent and highly political way in which `nature is formed, and the importance of more honest ways of characterising the coming-into-being of new plant varieties. The final section points to some existing proposals and projects that might help us to build systems of property in this area that are both more equitable and that acknowledge the contributions and needs of all of the diverse actorshuman and notinvolved in the `emergence of agricultural biodiversity.
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