Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Intellectual Property Office - Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad & Tobago and the International Union for the Protection of Plants (UPOV 91)

Trinidad & Tobago and the International Union for the Protection of Plants (UPOV 91)

The International Union for the protection of New Variety of plants (UPOV) provides an international system that can protect plant breeder rights and is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It encourages innovation in agriculture by rewarding formulation of new species of plants with protection for the breeders of these varieties. These varieties cannot be exploited or sold without the formal consent of the breeder. This fact contributes greatly to establishing sustained food security which is an evident concern in most jurisdictions. Plant Varieties may offer benefits such as crops being more resistant to pest, drought and other factors that may decrease yield or an entire crop altogether.

According to the Central Statistical Office, Trinidad and Tobago had an annual food import bill of $5.67 billion Trinidad and Tobago dollars for the year 2019. $1.1 billion of this sum stemmed from the purchase of fruits and vegetables. Our twin island which is blessed with the natural resource of oil and gas has long been the mainstay in the appropriation of foreign exchange in the country’s coffers. New plant Variety protections boasts the ability of not only boosting the appeal for crop products but also creates new markets and industries because of the ability of the protection of Intellectual property rights. This must be the focus of the country’s diversification plan as it seeks to supply a wide range which can stem from a delicate niche market to broad sectors that require bulk purchases.

Plant Variety protection boasts endless possibilities such as franchising and leasing. No longer is there a need to only consider deriving revenue in the agricultural sector by planting vast sums of crops. Selling and leasing plant material has become a multi-million dollar industry. Names like Monsanto, an international producer of seeds and plants has established a large empire by these means and has boasted of assisting many regions that had very specific requirements concerning pest resistant plants. To be allowed to propagate these varieties they must have agreements in place with Monsanto.

Trinidad & Tobago became a member of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) on January 30, 1998. Under this act producers and breeders can have protection for only a small range of plants which include: Bromiliaceae (pineapple family) and Orchidaceae (orchid family); Anthuriums; Heliconiaceae (heliconia flower, “lobster claw”); Sterculiaceae (around 1,500 species of tropical trees & shrubs, cocoa/cacao); Cajanus (pigeon peas, etc.) and Vigna (legume family, beans); and Theobroma cacao L (cocoa/cacao). Only plants that are within these families can be protected under the current act. Crops that fall outside of this listing would not be able to garner protection as this is the scope of protection afforded by the current act. This is why consideration must be given to accede and amend to the more up to date version of the Upov convention which is the Upov 1991 act which gives protection for almost all new varieties of plants and vines.

It is the mandate of the Trinidad and Tobago Intellectual property (TTIPO) office to foster and stimulate innovation throughout the country and the region. As such we have hosted and conducted many sessions to bring key stakeholders as well as the “average joe” up to speed not only on areas concerning plant variety protection and its benefits but to all aspects of intellectual property in an attempt to create long standing economic, social and financial stability in our beloved twin island.

Mario Whiteman
Technical Examiner