A movement calling for plants to be treated as patentable inventions emerged in 1970s Japan. Among the loudest proponents of reform were people who had long engaged in the breeding and propagation of fruits and flowers, in certain cases far beyond Japan’s post-1945 borders. This presentation contextualizes the activities of the plant patent movement these breeders and propagators joined.

Although United States plant patent precedents loomed large in Japanese debates, the issue was not simply one of borrowing existing legal frameworks. Rather, ideas of plant patenting were enmeshed in complex histories of migration, settler colonialism, and agricultural improvement. The implementation of a non-patent based Japanese plant variety protection system split opinion within the plant patent movement and contributed to its breakup by the early 1980s. Even so, several of the movement’s former members later became involved in a widely publicized dispute over the patentability of a fruit tree: a peach variety with roots in colonial-era Korea. In tracing Japan’s plant patent movement alongside plants and people in motion, this presentation reconsiders issues of ownership and state power beyond nationally framed histories of plant variety protection alone.

About the speaker

Senior Lecturer Kjell Ericson
Kyoto University

Kjell Ericson is a Program-Specific Senior Lecturer at Kyoto University’s Center for the Promotion of Interdisciplinary Education and Research and teaches history in the Kyoto-Heidelberg Joint Degree in Transcultural Studies (JDTS) Program. His research interests are in histories of environment, technology, and law, in and around the Japanese archipelago. An in-progress monograph project examines Japan’s southern Mie Prefecture, a region that was once the global center of saltwater pearl cultivation. His publications include contributions to multiple edited volumes and research articles in Technology and Culture, Zinbun, and the Journal of the History of Biology.

About People, Plants and the Law Online Lecture Series

The People, Plants, and the Law lecture series explores the legal and lively entanglements of human and botanical worlds.

Today people engage with and relate to plants in diverse and sometimes divergent ways. Seeds—and the plants that they produce—may be receptacles of memory, sacred forms of sustenance, or sites of resistance in struggles over food sovereignty. Simultaneously, they may be repositories of gene sequences, Indigenous knowledge, bulk commodities, or key components of economic development projects and food security programs.

This lecture series explores the special role of the law in shaping these different engagements, whether in farmers’ fields, scientific laboratories, international markets, or elsewhere.


Online Seminar via Zoom