Date of Award


Document Type


First Advisor

Teresa Scassa


Legal control and ownership of plants and traditional knowledge of the uses of plants (TKUP) is often a vexed issue, particularly at the international level because of the conflicting interests of states or groups of states in the matter. The most widely used form of juridical control of plants and TKUP is the patent system which originated in Europe. This thesis rethinks the role of international law and legal concepts, the major patent systems of the world and international agricultural research institutions as they affect legal ownership and control of plants and TKUP. The analysis is cast in various contexts and examined in multiple levels. The first context and level of analysis deals with the Eurocentric character of the patent system, international law and institutions. The second involves the cultural and economic dichotomy between the industrialized Western world, otherwise known as the North and the industrializing world, otherwise known as the South. The North-South divide is not always neat but used here as a convenient tool of analysis. The third considers the phenomenal loss of human culture and plant biodiversity. In examining these issues within the delimited contexts, this thesis makes the argument that the Eurocentric character of the patent system and international law, cultural and gender-biases of Western epistemology and the commercial orientation of the patent system are factors which facilitate and legitimize the appropriation and privatization of plants and TKUP from the South by the North. The thesis also argues that the phenomenon of appropriation thrives in a cultural milieu where non-Western forms of knowledge are continually marginalized and ridiculed as "folk knowledge" or "culture-bound" knowledge.