The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) of the United Nations (UN) was established in 1967 and the Convention establishing WIPO entered into force in 1970. WIPO became a UN specialized agency in 1974. The organization works to promote the development of measures for the protection of intellectual property rights and to harmonize national legislation in this field. WIPO is encouraging international agreements towards this end and administering many of these.

One of the most important instruments towards this end is the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which assists applicants in seeking patent protection internationally for their inventions, helps patent offices with their patent granting decisions, and facilitates public access to technical information relating to those inventions. By filing one international patent application under the PCT, applicants can simultaneously seek protection for an invention in a large number of countries.

Through the PCT, patents related to plants may be granted simultaneously in all these countries, thus heavily affecting any rights that farmers’ have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed, and this is thus another clear expression of an ownership approach to genetic resources, as compared to a stewardship approach.

Also other parts of WIPO are relevant with regard to Farmers’ Rights, most importantly the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC). This committee was established in 2000 and provides an international forum for dialogue concerning the interplay between intellectual property and traditional knowledge, genetic resources, and traditional cultural expressions (folklore). IGC seeks to work complementary to related activities undertaken by other international institutions.

Since 2009, the work has evolved from a dialogue forum to a negotiation process towards an agreement on one or more international legal instruments to protect traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources. The Secretary of the Plant Treaty has been working with WIPO’s Traditional Knowledge Division to identify possible areas of interrelations between the International Treaty, in particular its Article 9 on Farmers’ Rights, and relevant instruments of WIPO.