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. While most scholarly attention has been given to the role of patents in the management of plant genetic resources, that focus is simply one among many interactions between food and law. Attention must also be paid to the workings of law across the entirety of the food chain—from access to germplasm, through breeding and farming, onto processing, packaging, storage, transport, marketing, and finally, consumption and waste.

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).

Likewise, shifts in food production, agricultural technologies, or the law itself can trigger changes in unexpected places along the food chain—creating new juridical spaces, reorganising the social relations of production, or allowing for new types of technoscientific interventions. In this sense, tracking the workings of intellectual property across the production, distribution, and consumption of food opens up a number of potential avenues to explore the relationship between agriculture and law.