Protecting Biodiversity: Recognizing International Intellectual Property Rights in Plant Genetic Resources

Accelerating deforestation in many tropical countries with the concomitant loss of plant species diversity incites increasing international concern. Until very recently, international environmental law tended to regard natural plant species as a “common heritage,” a universal resource immune to private property claims. This common heritage approach to the problem of biodiversity loss has left the majority of plant species in a jurisprudential void, unprotected by property rights and subject to conflicting claims by countries with divergent goals. Unrelieved economic pressures force impoverished peoples in species-rich developing nations to resort to activities that ravage the forests, and the tragedy of biodiversity loss continues to play itself out on the global commons.