Pakistan's Plant Breeders' Rights Act adopted by the National Assembly

by Laurent Gaberell, Public Eye

(by Laurent Gaberell, Public Eye) On September 5, 2016, the Pakistan National Assembly adopted a Plant Breeders’ Rights Act (link is external) “to encourage the development of new plant varieties and to protect the rights of breeders of such varieties”. The Act provides protection for new plant varieties while at the same time respecting the right of farmers to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds, a practice which is the backbone of agricultural system and the main channel through which farmers get access to seeds in most developing countries.

Pakistan is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and as such has the obligation to provide for the protection of plant varieties either by patents or by an effective sui generis system or by any combination thereof. Pakistan is also a member of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture which recognizes the right of farmers to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds.

The Plant Breeders’ Rights Act grants protection to a new plant variety provided it conforms to the criteria of novelty, distinctness, uniformity, stability and designated by an acceptable denomination. The authorization of the breeder is required for offering for sale, selling, marketing, importing, exporting, conditioning, multiplying, or stocking for that purpose, the protected variety. The protection is granted for twenty five years in the case of trees and vines and twenty years in the case of all other plants. The protection granted also applies to essentially derived varieties. Those provisions are largely modelled on UPOV91.

The Plant Breeders’ Rights Act includes a disclosure of origin requirement. It requires that the application for protection shall “contain a complete identification data of the parental lines from which the variety has been derived along with the geographical location in or outside Pakistan from where the genetic material has been taken”, “be accompanied by written consent of the authority representing public sector, private sector or the local community in case where the plant is developed from traditional varieties” and “be supported by documents relating to the compliance of any law regulating access to genetic and biological resources”. Once the Plant breeders’ right is granted, any person or group of persons or firm or governmental or non-governmental organization established in Pakistan can bring a claim to benefit sharing to such variety. Importantly, those provisions on access and benefit-sharing might not be compatible with UPOV91.

Article 25 deals with exceptions to breeders’ rights. The Article makes it clear that nothing in this Act shall prevent any act done privately on a non-commercial basis. It entitles a farmer “to save, use, sow, re-sow, exchange, share his farm produce” and allows “any exchange of propagating materials among farmers”. Those provisions go beyond the exceptions to breeders' rights included in UPOV91.

In  most developing countries, the practice of farmers saving, using, exchanging and selling farm-saved seeds is the backbone of agricultural system and the main channel through which farmers get access to seeds.