Bringing Minimum Global Intellectual
Property Standards into Agriculture:
The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects
of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)
The biggest shift in the intellectual property (IP) regime occurred at the end of the 20th century
with the introduction of IP into the international trade regime. This de facto made IP rules
global and extended the reach of IP into new countries and sectors, notably agriculture. This
chapter charts that history and examines the key elements of the new regime under TRIPS,
which introduced the requirement for WTO Members to have plant variety protection and
extend patentability to micro-organisms. It also looks at the links between TRIPS rules,
genetic resources, traditional knowledge and food security.
From a formal legal point of view, IP was until recently unrelated to the trading system. Its formal incorporation in the Uruguay Round trade negotiations in 1986 was a controversial North–South issue and also a major novelty.1 It also coincided with the bringing of agriculture and plant and animal health (sanitary and phytosanitary regulations) into the trade regime. All of these became incorporated into the World Trade Organization (WTO), formally established as an outcome of the Uruguay Round.
The relationship between IP protection and international trade was also controversial at the birth of the modern international IP system. When the first attempt to negotiate an international understanding on the protection of patents was made in the last quarter of the 19th century it found Europe in the middle of a major controversy between patent advocates and free traders. The free traders argued that the recognition of patents in different national jurisdictions constituted trade barriers. The compromise made in those days was around the recognition that each member country of the 1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (patents, trademarks, utility models, industrial designs and unfair competi