Food security is going to be one of the biggest global challenges over the next years, in response to the expected growth of the world’s population and the concurrent increase in food demand. Agriculture must be able to boost and improve productivity, while facing climate change and achieving resource efficiency. Within this context, plant breeding can surely play a key role. The development of new plant varieties allows to enhance productivity; to obtain better pests and diseases resistance; to decrease the pressure of agricultural activities on the environment; to increase the nutritional content of food; to facilitate a better adaptation of the plant to climatic stress.
Plant breeding is crucial not only to food security, because of the larger productivity and the higher nutrition of new varieties, but also to sustainability, because of the lower use of chemical products and the better resource efficiency. In addition, innovation in plant varieties is fundamental to reduce crop genetic vulnerability because it increases genetic diversity.
In such a context, the role of breeding in the specific sector of cereal crops has to be highlighted. First of all, the largest amount of global agricultural production is made up of cereals, which represent the foundation of the human diet. Furthermore, FAO affirms that there is an alarming global trend towards genetic vulnerability of cereals: at least 30 countries have reported genetic erosion of these crops in the last years. Also, the European Union is one of the world’s leaders in cereal production and the economic fabric of the seed companies operating within the EU is mostly made up of SMEs.
However, plant breeding is a time-consuming science and it needs a large amount of economic, natural and human resources to be carried out efficiently. That is the reason why plant variety protection systems have been promoted by granting breeders an IP right on their new plant variety (so-called breeder’s right), in order to reward the inventor for the investment made and, consequently, carry on innovation in agriculture.
Whereas IP rights on plant variety are supposed to promote innovation; whereas innovation is fundamental to achieve food security and support biodiversity; whereas cereal crops are vital for EU agriculture; the research question is whether the IP rights on plant varieties are still able to foster innovation in the EU cereal sector, especially for SMEs, which have been inclined toward the use of plant variety protection systems refusing the patent one.
It shall be noted that the project originated from a combination of academic and applied research, the latter being carried out within an Italian SME engaged in activities of research and commercialization of seeds for agriculture, especially cereals. The synergy of studying law in the books and law in action affected the choice of the empirical legal research methodology.