Safeguarding Plant Varieties in the Middle East: A Vital Step for Biodiversity and Innovation

Feb 14


Edwin Chang

Edwin Chang

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In the face of declining plant populations and the looming threat of extinction for even the most common species, the Middle East is recognizing the importance of intellectual property (IP) rights for plant breeders. These rights, crucial for economic growth and food security, empower breeders to innovate and contribute to agricultural diversity. This article delves into the significance of plant variety protection and the current landscape of IP rights for plant breeders in the Middle East.

The Essence of Plant Variety Protection

Plant Variety Protection (PVP),Safeguarding Plant Varieties in the Middle East: A Vital Step for Biodiversity and Innovation Articles also known as Breeder's Rights, is a form of intellectual property that grants exclusive rights to plant breeders over new, distinct plant varieties they develop. This legal framework is designed to encourage the creation of new plant varieties by ensuring breeders can reap the benefits of their innovations.

Plant breeding is a meticulous process that involves generating and selecting plants with desirable traits, such as disease resistance, improved yield, or enhanced aesthetic qualities. Breeders can secure patents, trademarks, and industrial designs for their legally recognized new plant varieties, thus incentivizing continued innovation in the field.

The concept of plant breeder rights was first established by the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) in 1961. Since then, numerous revisions have been made, with countries worldwide either joining UPOV or implementing similar legislation domestically.

Why Plant Variety Protection Matters

The impact of plant breeding spans various sectors, from creating floral varieties with enhanced features to developing crops that can withstand harsh conditions. Plant breeding is a multi-billion dollar industry, with significant implications for global food supply and biodiversity.

Developing new plant varieties is a resource-intensive endeavor, often requiring over a decade of research and development before a new variety can be commercialized. Intellectual property rights provide the necessary incentive for breeders to invest in this lengthy and costly process.

Plant Variety Protection in the Middle East

The Middle East, comprising 17 countries, is increasingly focused on plant variety protection as a means to address climate change and bolster food security. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the risks of relying heavily on imported food, underscoring the benefits of fostering local plant breeding initiatives.

Legal Framework for Plant Varieties in the Middle East

Plant variety protection in the Middle East is influenced by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). These international agreements are complemented by environmental treaties such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, new plant varieties can be registered for protection in countries like Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. However, the list of plant varieties eligible for protection varies by country.

To qualify for protection, a new plant variety must meet several criteria, including novelty, distinctiveness, uniformity, stability, and environmental safety. The duration of protection typically ranges from 20 to 25 years, depending on the type of plant.

Registration Eligibility for New Plant Varieties

The following entities are eligible to register a new plant variety:

  1. The plant breeder.
  2. Collaborators involved in the development of the variety, with mutual consent.
  3. The first applicant in cases of identical applications.
  4. The employer if the breeder developed the variety under an employment contract.

Conclusion and the Urgency of Action

Recent studies indicate a rapid decline in plant diversity in the Middle East. Dr. Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the Red List Unit at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has expressed concern over the dramatic reduction in plant numbers and the imminent threat of extinction for many species. The IUCN has created a red list to highlight plants at risk in the region.

The need to discover resilient new plant varieties and preserve existing ones has never been more pressing. For those interested in applying for a patent or learning more about intellectual property rights, ABOU NAJA offers expert guidance and support.

Interesting statistics and facts that are not commonly discussed include the economic impact of plant variety protection. According to a study by the American Seed Trade Association, the global seed market was valued at approximately $63.5 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $86.0 billion by 2027, demonstrating the significant economic potential of protected plant varieties (ASTA). Additionally, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that plant genetic resources are crucial for food security, with over 75% of the world's food coming from just 12 plants and five animal species, highlighting the importance of diversifying crops through breeding (FAO).