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Diversity and Deadlock: Transcending Conventional Wisdom on the Relationship Between Biological Diversity and Intellectual Property

June 2001

Citation: ELR 10625

Author: Jim Chen

I. Biodiversity and Biotechnology: Debate as Distraction

The struggle for human survival, so successful that it now consumes 20 to 40% of the solar energy captured by plants,1 has cast a gloomy shadow on almost all other forms of life. "Half the world's species will be extinct or on the verge of extinction" by the end of the 21st century.2 The death toll from rainforest destruction alone "might easily reach 20[%] by 2022 and rise as high as 50[%] or more thereafter."3 In its evolutionary impact, civilization has easily outclassed an ice age, or even 20.4 In geological terms as well as in a colloquial sense, contemporary mass extinctions "mark[] the end of an epoch."5

Amid this evolutionary catastrophe, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development met at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, to fashion two international agreements, a framework convention on climate change6 and the Convention on Biological Diversity (sometimes referred to as the Biodiversity Convention).7 Although global warming may in time land an even more devastating blow,8 this Article will focus on more direct efforts under the Biodiversity Convention to stem the tide of extinctions. Crippled by the lack of U.S. cooperation, the Biodiversity Convention has weathered nearly a decade of controversy over the relationship between biodiversity and biotechnology.

Professor of Law and Julius E. Davis Professor of Law, 2000-2001, University of Minnesota Law School, chenx064@maroon.tc.umn.edu. Visiting Professor, Slovenska Pol'nohospordarska Univerzita v Nitre, Fakulta Ekonomiky a Manazmentu. This Article is based on a presentation at the University of Washington Law School's High Technology Protection Summit on July 22, 2000. It was presented at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary on February 7, 2001. Anna Bandlerova, Peter Fandel, and Eleonora Marisova showed me every kindness during my stay in Slovakia. Dan L. Burk, Holly Doremus, Daniel A. Farber, Gil Grantmore, Drew L. Kershen, and Srividhya Ragavan offered helpful comments. Nicole A. Saharsky provided very capable research assistance. Special thanks to Kathleen Howard.

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