Intellectual Property Law and Food Security
Research Project

Access and Use of Genetic Resources and Knowledge

Recurring concerns related to the implications of intellectual property protections for food and agriculture are often driven by questions of how emergent regulatory regimes affect access to and use of genetic resources and associated knowledge. Tensions have emerged between international agreements, (eg, treaties governing biodiversity and intellectual property rights), national laws (eg, frameworks for biodiscovery, plant variety protection and seed certification), and local and Indigenous practices of biodiversity management and agriculture (eg, conventional plant breeding, and customary seed saving and sharing between and among farmers).

Critiques variously claim that formal legal systems increasingly impinge on local and Indigenous agricultural practices, that the commercialisation of research products derived from locally-sourced genetic resources does not translate into equitable benefit sharing between innovators and Indigenous communities, and that laws that require community consent and benefit sharing for access to genetic resources hamper scientific research.

In the present project, we hope to better understand, frame, and investigate the contingency of local and Indigenous practices—their histories and transformations—and how those practices come to interact with global and national governance of intellectual property and biodiversity. Ultimately, the hope is to move beyond dichotomous thinking, to reconceptualise issues of access to and use of genetic resources in a manner that might promote food security, diffuse agricultural innovations, and ensure protection of the interests of both providers and users of resources and associated knowledge.