Glossaries of Biotechnology Terms


As the area of Biosafety has developed over the years, the public have been introduced to legal terms that have been used over periods of time. This Section will provide general definitions of commonly used legal terms and will assist by providing a quick link to the definitions and assist non-lawyers in reading through the legal section. Other sources will be used to provide definitions and/or comparisons for terms that are defined in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety does not in itself define the term “BIOSAFETY”. However, Article 1 of the Protocol provides that the objective of the Protocol is to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection in the field of the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health, and specifically focusing on transboundary movements. (Article 1) Source:

Accession A method by which a nation that is not among a treaty’s original signatories becomes a party to it. Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004).

Ban is an official or legal prohibition.

“Biosafety” In this context, means the safe handling, transfer and use of living organisms modified through biotechnology. Source:

Bioethics: is the study of ethical issues raised by medical and biological research and the applications of that research. Source:

“Biological diversity” means the variability among living organisms.

Biotechnology “any technology that is applied to living organisms to make them more valuable to people” (CBD, 2008). Source:

Damages is a Monetary compensation that is awarded by a court in a civil action to an individual who has been injured through the wrongful conduct of another party.

Damages attempt to measure in financial terms the extent of harm a plaintiff has suffered because of a defendant’s actions. Damages are distinguishable from costs, which are the expenses incurred as a result of bringing a lawsuit and which the court may order the losing party to pay. Damages also differ from the verdict, which is the final decision issued by a jury.

The purpose of damages is to restore an injured party to the position the party was in before being harmed. As a result, damages are generally regarded as remedial rather than preventive or punitive. Before an individual can recover damages, the injury suffered must be one recognized by law as warranting redress, and must have actually been sustained by the individual. Source:

Intellectual Property (IP) refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce. Intellectual property is divided into two categories: Industrial property, which includes inventions (patents), trademarks, industrial designs, and geographic indications of source; and Copyright, which includes literary and artistic works such as novels, poems and plays, films, musical works, artistic works such as drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures, and architectural designs. Source:

Liability means legal responsibility for one’s acts or omissions. Failure of a person or entity to meet that responsibility leaves him/her/it open to a lawsuit for any resulting damages or a court order to perform (as in a breach of contract or violation of statute). Source:||||
“Living modified organism” means any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology; Source:

Living Modified Organism (LMO) is also known as genetically modified organism (GMO), Genetically Engineered Organism (GE) or transgenic organism.

“Living organism” means any biological entity capable of transferring or replicating genetic material, including viruses and viroids.

“Modern biotechnology” means the application of:

a. In vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or

b. Fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers and that are not used in traditional breeding and selection. Source:

Moratorium is a suspension of activity by a party. Source: Moratorium is also a legally authorized postponement before an obligation must be discharged or the suspension of an ongoing activity.

Nuisance, is the interference with enjoyment of, or rights over, land. There are two kinds of nuisance. Private nuisance affects a particular occupier of land, such as noise from a neighbor; the aggrieved occupier can apply for an injunction and claim damages. Public nuisance affects an indefinite number of members of the public, such as obstructing the highway; In this case, individuals can claim damages only if they are affected more than the general public. Source:

Patent: a patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. In order to be patentable, the invention must be of practical use; it must show an element of novelty, that is, some new characteristic which is not known in the body of existing knowledge in its technical field. This body of existing knowledge is called “prior art”. The invention must show an inventive step which could not be deduced by a person with average knowledge of the technical field. Finally, its subject matter must be accepted as “patentable” under law. Source:

Ratification The final establishment of consent by the parties to a treaty to be bound by it, including the exchange or deposit of instruments of ratification. Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004).

Redress is a means of obtaining a remedy or compensation (as damages) for wrong or loss. Source:

Signatory A party that signs a document, personally or through an agent, and thereby becomes a party to an agreement.

Torts are wrongful acts for which someone can be sued for damages in a civil court. It includes such acts as libel, trespass, injury done to someone (whether intentionally or by negligence), and inducement to break a contract (although breach of contract itself is not a tort). In general a tort is distinguished from a crime in that it affects the interests of an individual rather than of society at large, but some crimes can also be torts (for example, assault). Source:

“Transboundary movement” means the movement of a living modified organism from one State to another.
For more readings:

  1. Biotechnology Industry Organization Glossary
  2. Glossary
  3. FAO Glossary
  4. GMO Compass Glossary