Seeds occupy a dominant place within the area of Plant Varieties. They are the most important reproduction mechanism in the agricultural economy and the most tempting for evading the payment of royalties.
In Argentina two crops occupy top place in biotechnological piracy: wheat and soybean.
Since the introduction of glyphosate-resistant soybean seeds, the volume has not stopped growing. With that growth, the quantity of seeds which farmers reserve for planting the following year has increased. Protected by the exception of the legal concept known as “own use”, the volume of legal seeds as a percentage of the total has fallen to such a point that the producers of new varieties have no incentives to introduce those new varieties into the market.
Improvers of soybean seeds have tried to reach agreements to limit “own use”. Resolving this issue of the payment of royalties for own use is a conflict which has continued over years without any solution and without any mechanism agreed to compensate researchers for the intellectual property rights of the new plant varieties.
The interested entities, the representative associations from both sides of the conflict, have begun a series of meetings in order to find a solution to the problem. The aim of these meetings is important for soybean crops.
Different private estimates suggest that around 25% of seeds used correspond to taxed and legal seeds, while the rest are divided among illegal use and own use. As a result of the failure to find a solution to the payment of royalties, one of the most significant participants withdrew from the sale of soybean seeds in Argentina.
A solution to this conflict would not only affect soybean, but also the intellectual property rights of all plant varieties including wheat, another species which can be kept and multiplied for the following year.
The meetings aimed to adapt the concept of “own use”. This exception is a concept which was born in the USA in the 1930s and was later adopted by Europe, although in a more diluted version. In fact, US legislation not only allows seed reserves for planting in the owners property, but authorises the sale to neighbours “across the fence”, a concept which is not included in European legislation.
Although in the USA the definition of “across the fence” was limited to the true spirit of the legislator, it was necessary to take legal action to limit the right. In Argentina, Act 20.248 and its enabling regulations use European legislation in this area. Reviewing “own use” is currently under discussion, which would transform into free use and use for valuable consideration. Accordingly, it is necessary to determine the scale of producers that would be exempt from payment as free own use would benefit small producers. The scale of a small producer is currently being considered at 150 to 200 ha.
This issue under discussion is urgent. Argentinean farmers are aware that in order to obtain the benefits offered by new technological innovations they must compensate those who create and hold the Intellectual Property Rights.