Biopiracy:The Patenting of Basmati by Ricetec (W-37)

Biopiracy:The Patenting of Basmati by Ricetec (W-37)

Publication details

  • Saturday | 15 Aug, 1998
  • Uzma Jami
  • Working Papers
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Uzma Jamil, SDPI 1998 Abstract The paper discusses the North-South context for biopiracy, explains the process by which RiceTec acquired its patent, ascertains why it amounted to biopiracy and examines its implications for southern export markets. It reviews the international conventions that provide potential relief and suggests how their provisions can be dovetailed with regional and national initiatives. Biopiracy can be defined as the manipulation of intellectual property rights laws by corporations to gain exclusive control over national genetic resources, without giving adequate -- if any -- recognition or remuneration to the original possessors of those resources. Examples of biopiracy include recent patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office to American companies on turmeric, 'neem' and, most notably, 'basmati' rice.  All three products are indigenous to the Indo-Pak subcontinent. While biopiracy has many dimensions, we focus here on the North-South aspect as being one of the most pervasive. The patents on turmeric, neem and basmati are a few manifestations of the increasing infringement of the economic and national sovereignty of the South by the North. The North exercises its dominance through many global conventions and bodies; in particular, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a key entity which seeks to create a uniform, global standard for trade relations, intellectual property rights, agriculture, etc.  In reality, this “uniform standard” has an explicitly pro-Northern bias. Three related issues are at stake. The first is the generic issue of local community rights in the South versus corporate rights of northern organizations.  This leads into more specific issue of global standards and national laws, wherein such rights are addressed.  The two global conventions pertaining to patent protection, both generally and in terms of specific standards are, respectively, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). These have a bearing on national legislation under which individual countries determine patent laws.  The application of these standards and the effectiveness of national legislation are at the core of the debate over the livelihood of Southern communities versus northern corporate profits.  All three aspects come into play in the basmati case. The purpose of this paper is to: i) evaluate the implications of the basmati patent award for India and Pakistan; ii) analyze and assess the effectiveness of TRIPS, CBD and national legislation in challenging this patent and; iii) based on the findings, propose measures to strengthen these options with a view to creating a level playing field for the South.