The European Commission published on 9 January 2020 its new report on protection and enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in third countries.

The report puts intellectual property related to plant varieties in the spotlight. Plant breeding can play an important role in increasing productivity and quality in agriculture, whilst minimising the pressure on the environment. The EU wants to encourage investment and research in this area, including in the development of new crops resistant to drought, flood, heat and salinity to better respond to the negative consequences of climate change. Protection of plant varieties becomes therefore one of the Commission priorities in the coming period.

As outlined by the European Commission, while developments have taken place since the publication of the previous report, concerns persist and a number of areas for improvement and action remain to be addressed.

Intellectual property rights infringements worldwide cost European firms billions of euros in lost revenue and put thousands of jobs at risk. Today's report identifies three groups of countries on which the EU will focus its action: 1) China; 2) India, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine; 3) Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Malaysia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.

For the first time, a separate annex is dedicated to the protection and enforcement of plant variety rights. This is justified by the importance of the protection of plant varieties in the context of global environmental challenges, as well as by their high exposure to IPR infringements. Many EU plant varieties are reportedly suffering from weak protection and abuses in third countries with important economic losses for EU breeders and the consequent loss of incentives for further investment and research in this area.

Improved yield, more efficient use of nutrients, resistance to plant pests and diseases, salt and drought tolerance and better adaptation to climatic stress are some of the features that allow breeders of new plant varieties to increase productivity and quality in agriculture, horticulture and forestry, whilst minimizing the pressure on the environment. 

As far as the protection and enforcement of plant variety rights are concerned, EU breeders face problems which can be grouped as follows: lack of effective plant variety rights legislation (in accordance with the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention); absence of UPOV membership; difficulties in implementing effective administrative proceedings by designated national authorities; and lack of an effective system for the collection and enforcement of royalties at both judicial and administrative levels.

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