The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) is an intergovernmental organization with headquarters in Geneva (Switzerland). The mission 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 encourages and rewards the ingenuity and creativeness of breeders developing new varieties of plants. Anyone who develops a new variety of plant that may be disease resistant, drought resistant, cold tolerant, or simply aesthetically more pleasing is no less an inventor than someone who improves an automobile engine or develops a new medicinal drug.
The process of creating a new plant variety is often long and expensive. Reproducing or multiplying an existing plant variety, however, can be quick and relatively easy. Thus, an effective system of intellectual property protection is needed to provide incentives for innovation by permitting breeders to recover their investment and, at the same time, encourage the development of new plant varieties. The UPOV system establishes basic legal principles of protection by providing the breeders exclusive rights to their plant invention for a specific period of time, while making available the genetic material to others to use in their breeding programs.
To receive the exclusive rights, a breeder must invent a plant variety that is new, distinct, uniform, and stable. The grant of the breeder's right cannot be subject to any further or different conditions, provided that the variety is designated by an acceptable denomination.
Under the 1991 UPOV convention, which is the most recent agreement, the exclusive rights granted to the breeder (commonly referred to as "breeder's rights") require that another party must receive the breeder's authorization before performing the following acts in respect of the propagating materials:
- producing or reproducing the protected variety;
- conditioning the variety for propagation purposes;
- offering for sale, selling, marketing, importing, exporting, or stocking the protected variety.
However, the breeder's authorization is not necessary if the protected variety is used for private and non-commercial purposes, for experimental purposes, or for the purpose of breeding new plant varieties. The UPOV Convention also allows each member nation to restrict the breeder's rights by permitting farmers to use part of their harvest for subsequent plantings in their own land. The restriction of the breeder's rights, however, must be within reasonable limits and subject to the safeguarding of the legitimate interests of the breeder.
The UPOV member countries hold biannual meetings of the Council, a permanent body of the convention. Other UPOV bodies include the Consultative Committee, the Administrative and Legal Committee, and the Technical Committee, made up of several Technical Working Parties (TWPs) covering several agricultural sectors. The TWPs meet periodically to share and discuss technical observations and advancements in agricultural sectors, which help to standardize examination procedures used by the members. The standardized examination procedures and harmonized plant variety protection systems should lead to greater consistency of application filings in different territories.
As of June 2009, UPOV has 67 members. The UPOV membership is expected to continue to increase in the next several years.