Regional Intellectual Property Office for French-speaking African countries -OAPI- joins UPOV '91

Tuesday, 22 July 2014
APBREBES

UPOV in its press release dated 10th June 2014, announced that the African Intellectual Property Organization (known as the "Organisation Africaine de Propriété Intellectuelle" or by its acronym "OAPI") has joined UPOV as an intergovernmental organisation. OAPI has 17 mainly french-speaking countries as its members: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, EquatorialGuinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo. Its headquarters is in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

Within the OAPI region, PVP is governed by Annex X of the Bangui Agreement. Annex X was drafted in close cooperation with the UPOV Secretariat and as such is modelled on UPOV 1991. Under the Annex, the OAPI Secretariat has full authority to grant, and administer PVP rights. Any such grant will automatically take effect in its 17 member states.

In 2000, the UPOV Council concluded that Annex X conformed with UPOV 1991 and agreed that "once the Bangui Agreement was in force, the member States of the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) and OAPI itself might deposit instruments of accession to the Convention" (para 12(b), UPOV doc. C(Extr.)/17/6). Annex X entered into force on 1 January 2006. However it is only in 2014 that OAPI deposited with UPOV, its instrument of accession.

Of the 17 OAPI members, 13 countries are classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and thus are the poorest and most vulnerable segment of the international community. Equatorial Guinea and Comoros are LDCs but are not members of the WTO, and thus are under no obligation to put in place any sort of PVP system. Similarly other LDCs (though members of WTO) are also waived from having to put in place in PVP system until 1 July 2021 or even longer if the transition period continues. This flexibility has been given to LDCs in recognition of their significant constraints, and the need for policy space to overcome their developmental challenges.

Given the vulnerability and level of development of OAPI members, adoption of the UPOV's 1991 model (which was designed by developed countries for their advanced breeding industries) by OAPI raise significant concerns among civil society organisations. In 1999 GRAIN and ETC Group highlighted that OAPI was made up of some of the poorest countries in the world, and more than 20 million small-holder farmers in these countries were under pressure to give away their rights to freely save and exchange seed. GRAIN argued "Pushing the OAPI member states into UPOV’s clutches is seen by some as a deliberate move to undermine more pro-farmer legislative processes underway in Africa" and "clashes head-on with the determination of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to develop sui generis systems that ensure the protection and development of community rights as a cornerstone of sustainable development in Africa". See http://www.grain.org/es/article/entries/257-upov-on-the-war-path.

Even today, many experts, academics, civil society and farmer groups question the suitability of the UPOV 1991 model to the agricultural systems of developing countries. Of particular concern is that the UPOV model fails to recognise and/or undermines aspects that are fundamental for a sustainable biodiversity such as smallholder farmers' rights to freely save, exchange and sell seed/planting material, mechanisms to prevent misappropriation of genetic resources, protection of traditional knowledge; promoting diverse farming systems, rewarding agrobiodiversity rather than uniformity.