Since the 1990s, the European Union (EU) has been working to strengthen the protection of intellectual property (IP) in agriculture and related areas, and to integrate the relevant laws and regulations across its member states. The challenges ahead include accelerating technological transfer to farmers and supporting the creation of new agricultural businesses. In addition, another significant challenge is now emerging for the EU, that is, how to address the conflict between the need to protect IP and the need to protect the public interest. For instance, when the EU directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions was enacted in 1998, it came under fierce criticism for being detrimental to the environment and problematic from the perspective of bioethics. The criticism remains unresolved today. Meanwhile, the EU regulation for the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization prompted German and Dutch seed companies to file lawsuits seeking the annulment of the regulation, claiming that the regulation could undermine plant breeders’ rights and freedom to develop. How can the EU balance the need to enhance the competitiveness of agriculture and the need to safeguard non-economic public interest goals? That is another challenge inherent in the problem concerning agriculture and IP in the EU.
In this article, I will first provide an overview of the key areas of agricultural innovation that are currently focused in the EU, and consider IP policy challenges ahead. Next, I will summarize the patent system and the plant variety protection system in Europe, explaining the background and current status of problems surrounding the ban on double protection under the two systems. I will also analyze how multilateral rules on trade, the environment, and other global public policy issues have been affecting the IP laws and regulations in the EU in terms of their relationship with agriculture. Lastly, I will consider the newly emerging problem, namely, the conflict between the need to protect IP and the need to safeguard non-economic public interest goals.