Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Pamela Riney-kehrberg


Economic influences played a dominant role in design and implementation of intellectual property laws and agriculture policy in America. These influences have helped shape the values and goals of people who created, administered and interpreted patent laws throughout the twentieth century, as well as those who promoted agriculture in America and later in the developing world. The historical motivations driving these two institutions help explain how and why plants entered the realm of intellectual property and why international aid organizations defined and measured progress in economic terms. Events that serve to illustrate these dynamics include the Plant Patent Act of 1930, the Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970, the Rockefeller Foundation's agricultural outreach program in Mexico and the Foundation's formation - in cooperation with the Word Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Ford Foundation - of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Resources (CGIAR). Review of documents particular to these events reveals a consistent philosophy of progress through profit that informed debate over use of intellectual property rights in plants. As aid organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation and CGIAR embraced modern agriculture as a tool to help the developing world, they inherited and sometimes perpetuated this economic philosophy. The biotechnology revolution of the 1980's enhanced the already valuable seed collections held by these institutions and forced them to reevaluate their traditional policy of free sharing and address if and how seeds should be protected and used to generate income and how profit from such activities should be allocated. The solutions to these difficult issues and the historical influences that shaped them help drive the contemporary debate on topics such as GMO food, environmental safety and cultural preservation.


Copyright Owner

Kevin Frank Howe



Date Available


File Format


File Size

300 pages

Included in

History Commons