Organic seed patents protect the seeds that someone has created, giving them full access to utilize the seeds as they want. Many activists do not support these patents because they feel Big Agriculture utilizes them to prevent other farmers from planting the seeds they want to plant.

Organic vs. Conventional Plants and Patents

While there are regulatory entities in place to monitor how plants are grown, like the USDA's National Organic Program, there is no focus on how the plants are bred. It is possible to patent the seeds despite no one being allowed to patent how the plants are grown. A seed can grow organic or conventional food depending on which growing system is used. There are many organic growers who use patented seeds, typically by starting with the same seeds that other farmers have used for conventional growing, but raising them using organic methods.

Through studies done on vegetable breeding and genetics, it was found that most contemporary varieties of plants developed by private breeders are protected, as well as many public ones. Because of this, many advocacy groups are now promoting the concept of organic breeding. Many growers have now applied for patents on organic plants as well as seeds. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows few records for patents on organic seeds, although there are companies that have tried to patent other organic items.

Some of the patented items include:

  • Five chrysanthemum plants
  • An apparatus and method for manure reclamation

Patents like these are getting heat from activists claiming that patenting and organics should not mix. There have been other patents filed that organic grower activists feel crosses the line as well, including organic fertilizer made from seaweed extract and fish hydrolysate along with several Chinese patents for other types of organic fertilizer. There are also attempts to patent special organic seeds such as those produced by Seeds of Change, a California organic company that is trying to patent how the seeds are grown and claim they are created without the use of genetic engineering or modification.

The major concern over all these patents is that any grower who wishes to utilize these fungicides, fertilizers, and other growing products would be required to obtain permission from the patent holder, which often comes with a fee.

Utility Patent

There is the possibility of gaining a utility patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the special attributes of a specific variety of a plant. For example, Salanova lettuce could have a utility patent on its ability to resist the Nasonovia ribisnigri aphid.

When you have a plant variety with a utility patent, it can be used for crop production but the seeds cannot be saved, resold, replanted, or given away without permission. Under no circumstance may the variety be part of a breeding program used by others except the patent holder.

A utility patent protects the patent holder from others using the product for a period of 20 years. Once the patent is filed, growers are notified and the details for the product's use are shared in the public patent.

Plant Patent

A plant patent protects a unique asexually produced strain of a plant and cannot be granted for tuber-produced corps such as:

  • Potatoes
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Yams
  • Peanuts

A plant patent does not prohibit the use of the protected variety in a breeding program.

Plant Variety Protection vs. Open Source Seed Initiative

A Plant Variety Protection, or PVP, can be granted to a person or company by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. PVPs extend to tuber-produced or unique seed varieties and protect them from unauthorized commercialization. A PVP remains in effect for 20 years, except for perennial tree or vine species which are protected for 25 years.

In general, PVPs are sought for open-pollinated plants, though they can be acquired for hybrid varieties as well. When a PVP is in place, a grower has the ability to save the seeds of these plant varieties for their own use but has no right to distribute them.

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