School of Law

SOLM091 Agriculture, Trade and Intellectual Property (Sem 2)

Not running 2020-21

Module Description

The module covers several interrelated topics: food, agriculture, trade, business, technology and its regulation, intellectual property, and human rights.

Agriculture, including pastoralism, matters more than almost any other productive human activity. It supplies our most basic human needs, and it employs vast numbers of people. It has had a transformative effect on the biosphere. Indeed, it has arguably done more than any other activity to give rise to a new era in the Earth’s history: the Anthropocene. In the commercial sector, farmers are supplied with inputs such as seeds and agrochemicals and advanced new technologies produced by high-tech corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta. The processing of food and other products that are grown or reared by farmers and pastoralists is carried out by some enormous transnational corporations. These products are delivered to customers by retailers that may be small and local or are massive operations, the biggest being Walmart. The vital role of small-scale farmers especially in the developing countries needs to be acknowledged but all too rarely is. Along all parts of the value chain there is much pressure to innovate and intellectual property rights are an essential feature of the way businesses and markets operate, how investment choices are made and where innovative activities do (and do not) take place.

Food is a fundamental human necessity; it is also related to the luxury goods market, and can be seen as a social phenomenon. It affects the trading patterns of both large and small producer countries. The regulation of food and trade is currently a global concern, and this module will also analyse  the legal regulation of food from national and international levels, with reference to technology, intellectual property, agricultural and climate policies, and human rights vis-a-vis the global food and agricultural industries. The specific concerns are as follows: 1/Biotechnology has assisted corporations to propertise and privatise food production; this is increasingly being done through patenting, plant variety rights protection, trade secrets and trade marks law, and bio-cultural/geographical indications; 2/ Small farmers and producers, in developing and developed countries, struggle to produce, and market their goods in increasingly competitive markets, within challenging climate and environmental conditions; such actors have started to use  policy tools based on the individual's right to food, and the collective right of farmers to re-use seeds and determine food patterns; 3/ International law and institutions have widened the policy-making space by intertwining the issues of food security, genetic resources, environment, agricultural innovation, intellectual property, trade, human rights and sustainable development; 4/ Consumer trends have made agricultural products, especially cheese and wine, an international and trans-national branding and luxury issue, with producers using several legal tools, including trade marks, geographical indications, and bio-cultural indications, to capture niche, as opposed to mass, markets.

 The module is intended to complement substantive modules on the protection of intellectual property.

Applicable Groupings

Mode of Assessment

3,000-4,000 word essay


15 Credits