Author: Marsha S. Cadogan, PhD (Intellectual Property) | Canaan Bridges Consulting
Have you ever considered how diverse agricultural industries are across the world? From coffee, grains, fruits, fisheries, insect cultivation, to more controversial iterations of food production such as genetically modified foods. Agricultural practices are also diverse across different parts of the world. Some places rely on more labor intensive modes to plant, harvest and process foods. In other places, technology plays a more active role in food production, including robotic processes, accounting for substantial portions of farming activities.
The relationship between agriculture and intellectual property rights (IP) is an interesting one. Although there are several connections between the two, opportunities for forging further and more sustainable relationships still remain. Four solid connections between agriculture and IP for 2020 and beyond are:
Building Agricultural Brand Presence through Strategic IP Branding
Consumer tastes are continually changing. At the same time, product origin is increasingly important to consumers. Research indicates that consumers place a comparatively higher value on products that are not only fairly sourced, but where there are transparencies about the life cycle of the product – from cultivation to the distribution stage. Producers, distributors and farmers in the agricultural sector can likely benefit from strategic branding of their output. Branding impacts market and revenue share. Branding may include more informational related output, to more target specific strategies – which include a focus on specific aspects of the agricultural product, whether this be taste, its source (especially if this includes traditional and cultural practices that is related to its community of origin), social enterprise elements of the agri-product, or specific benefits to consumers. A strategic IP strategy for the global agri-sector will take account of these elements, and create solid matches with trademarks, geographical indications (where applicable), and copyright protection (this may be especially relevant if spill-over industries are created from the commercialization of the agri-product.
Do you know about Plant Varieties? And if so, is your product registrable?
Have you developed a new plant variety or a new crop specie? If you have, (the plant variety must be distinct, uniform and stable), consider stepping out and diversifying your IP portfolio, or adding value to your existing agricultural assets, by registering your variety as a Plant Variety. What is this? A form of IP that, if successfully registered, provides the right holder with exclusive right to the use of the plant variety name in the commercialization of the product. Globally, IP protection is provided for between 20-30 years. For example, in Canada, new plant variety trees and vines are protected for 25 years, and other varieties are protected for 20 years. In the European Union, under its Community Plant Varieties legislation, trees and vines are protected for 30 years, and other varieties for 25 years. Most countries also prohibit trademarks from using the same name as registered plant variety. If you have not made this link, it is something to think about.
Technology, Agriculture and IP
Have you ever encountered a technical block when trying to fix software related problems with your farm machinery? Yes? If so, this is related to technological protection measures (TPMs) embodied within agricultural-based software to prevent users (farmers etc.) from circumventing the copyrighted protected content of these devices. Another way that technology is changing the global agriculture space is through blockchain platforms. Most agricultural-based blockchain platforms are being developed to address the traceability of supply chains.
More solid relationships between agriculture, technology and IP in the ensuing years include: (i) Digital Agriculture that works to the benefit of rural farmers and farmers in developing and least developed countries. Intellectual property policies that promote access on reasonable terms, to digital technology, will help to advance sustainable development goals. And, (ii) the use of emerging technologies in the agri-food space that go beyond traceability functions, but also help to address producer incomes, improved relationships between producers and distributors, and is focused on innovation “means” that do not diminish real development goals.
Sustainable Agriculture, IP and Gender Equality
A sustainable agricultural framework makes the difference between the uncertain availability of agri-food products, to the assurance that agri-foods will be available for generations to come. When we think of building sustainable relationships between agriculture, IP and gender equality in the years to come, what comes to mind? If your list include means of securing proper working conditions and income for women farmers and agri-based scientist, and using strategic IP policy to secure strong linkages between agricultural products and development, then you are on the right track. Here, crucial IP frameworks may include geographical indications strategies, and certification mark schemes (trademark rights) that not only focus on quality standards, but also on equal accessibility of women farmers to use certification marks on their products.
It is time to change our conversation on IP and agriculture to paths where interconnections (whether old or new) benefit small-scale producers and women, more consistently.
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