What is the International Treaty for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants?

UPOV logo from: http://www.upov.int/about/en/

The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) is an intergovernmental organization that was established in 1961 and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. The purpose of UPOV is to provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection, with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society. 

The UPOV Convention provides a consistent and harmonized intellectual property framework at the international level, for which countries and intergovernmental organizations can adhere to. In order to become a member, a country or intergovernmental organization must have a domestic Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) or Plant Variety Protection (PVP) law that meets the minimum requirements of the UPOV Convention. At present, (2014) there are 70 countries and 2 inter-governmental organizations that are members of UPOV, but this changes over time as more countries become signatories:


International map of UPOV member countries (green) and other countries (brown) that have initiated the process of developing a UPOV based Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) law. (Image source from the UPOV website http://www.upov.org)

It is important to provide a mechanism for protecting plant varieties, because plant breeding is a time consuming, expensive, and resource intensive activity. However, plants can easily and quickly be reproduced, sometimes without permission of the breeder or without fairly compensating him/her for their investment and effort.  Successful breeding requires great skill and knowledge, as well as, specialized equipment (for example, greenhouses, growth chambers and laboratories).

Often it can take many years to bred a successful plant variety (7 to 15 years depending on the species), but not all new varieties will be successfully adopted in the marketplace. As such, a breeder is taking a risk when developing a new variety, but if successful, the benefits to farmers and society can be enormous. A UPOV based PBR/PVP law, makes it possible for a breeder to protect his/her variety in the marketplace and receive a return on his/her investment, as well as, encourage reinvestment plant breeding. 

The breeder’s “right” means that authorization is required from the breeder to propagate the variety for commercial purposes. The UPOV Convention specifies the acts that require the breeder’s authorization in respect of the use propagating material (e.g. seed) of a protected variety and, under certain conditions, in respect of the harvested material (e.g. grain or fruit). UPOV members may also decide to extend protection to products made directly from harvested material, under certain conditions.

In order to obtain protection for a new variety, the breeder needs to file an application with each national PBR or PVP Office in the specific region or country in which he/she plans to release that variety: