CropLife America: Intellectual Property Rights Essential to Agriculture

Douglas Nelson

As the agricultural sector introduces new crop protection technologies and innovations across the globe, it is vital to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) that encourage private-sector investment in R&D and advance modern agriculture. CropLife America (CLA), the trade association representing the manufacturers, formulators and distributors of crop protection products in the U.S., is actively involved in this issue alongside the World Trade Organization (WTO), trade partners and industry stakeholders.


The protection and promotion of IPR ensures that the manufacturers and developers of valuable agricultural products can create new, innovative and efficacious inputs that are protected from counterfeit and unfair disclosure. Protection of the regulatory data that innovators are required to submit to national regulatory authorities has led to significant agricultural benefits, including:

Productivity of corn, wheat, soybean and other crops that has grown exponentially over the past several decades with the development of fertilizers and new herbicides.

Spending on R&D of active ingredients climbed from $152 million in 1995 to $256 million in 2008.

Increased conservation of land and soil and reduced environmental impacts due to modern agricultural innovations.

World Trade Organization

The WTO helps define how trade is conducted around the globe and helps set standards for international commerce. The 157 member nations that make up the organization – including 49 “least-developed countries” as designated by the United Nations – negotiate agreements that facilitate the achievement of economic, social and environmental goals. Member nations are held compliant to these agreements, which lay the foundation for international trade policies.

In 1994, the WTO established the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, which has resulted in standards of data protection for the benefit of chemical, agricultural and other sectors. All current members of the WTO must comply with TRIPS, which sets forth international protection of IPR, including protection of copyright and related rights, trademarks, geographical indications, industrial designs, patents, integrated circuit layout-designs and undisclosed information.

Free Trade Agreements

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a free trade agreement currently under negotiation that will incorporate comprehensive standards for the protection and enforcement of IPR, including patents, copyrights and trade secrets. Eleven countries are involved in TPP negotiations: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the U.S. Overarching goals of TPP include greater access to goods and services, regulatory coherence and investment in innovative products and services, as well as complete adherence to TRIPS.

In 2012, CLA joined a number of other organizations in signing a letter addressed to U.S. President Barack Obama, urging him to redouble his administration’s efforts to ensure the protection and enforcement of IPR during TPP negotiations. Organizations from across the global CropLife network remain involved in promoting the importance of IPR protection at TPP stakeholder meetings and conveying how agriculture truly benefits from a system that values IPR.

Industry Commitment

In addition to working with stakeholders involved in global trade discussions, the plant science industry maintains its own commitment to protecting IPR. CropLife International (CLI), the international federation for the plant science industry, has formed specialized task forces that work to help moderate some of the global issues surrounding agricultural innovations and IPR. Its members include crop protection associations such as CLA, biotechnology trade associations and the manufacturers of crop protection products who invest heavily in product R&D.

CLI also remains strongly involved in anti-counterfeiting and works with law enforcement for more effective measures to protect farmers and the environment from the potential risks of illegal pesticides. Enforcement of IPR by police, customs and regulators and more transparency in the international trade of pesticides and active ingredients is essential to sustain product innovation and ensure that pesticides are traded and used in a responsible manner.

Agriculture Depends on IP

The regulation of IPR will continue to evolve as new solutions for supporting agricultural challenges emerge in the market. Groundbreaking technologies have been essential in facing the monumental changes that have shaped agriculture over the past century, and will continue to influence how food is grown across the globe. Without strict IPR enforcement and sound international trade policies, the development of some of the world’s most valuable innovations would not be possible.