Intellectual Property Law and Food Security
Research Project

Intellectual property across the food chain

Intellectual property law plays a role in nearly every facet of the modern global food industry. At each point in this commodity chain, the law is activated in different ways: alternately calling upon patents (in plants, genetic materials, pesticides, or on-farm and food processing technologies), copyright (in proprietary data collected on-farm, property maps, ingredient lists and recipes, or graphic design on product packaging), trade secrets (in recipes and formulas), and trade marks (for product certification, marketing, and advertising).

To date, scholarly attention has focused on a limited number of areas; notably, access to genetic resources, plant breeder’s rights, and geographical indications of origin. Scholarly attention has also focused on specific areas of intervention in isolation, rather than considering the impact legal change has across the food chain assemblage. Drawing on actor-network theory, the aim of this program is to shift the focus of attention to look at the workings of intellectual property law across the food chain— from access to germplasm, through breeding and farming, onto processing, packaging, storage, transport, marketing, and finally, consumption and waste.

By focusing on the process of movement and translation along the food chain, we hope to get a better understanding of how intellectual property law creates new juridical spaces, re-organises the social relations of production, and allows for new types of techno-scientific interventions.