Restricting people from continuing our co-evolution with plants for food security is an attack on humanity today and on future generations. We have seen, in the last 100 years, a complete shift in the management of seed as a public resource to one that is largely privatized. Organic Seed Alliance and others continue to raise awareness about the problem of utility patents on seed.
OSA has launched the Seed Patent Watch project. Join us in advocating for policies that protect seed stewards, and in taking actions against utility patents and other restrictive forms of intellectual property rights (IPR) that privatize the living, natural resource of seed.
Q&A on Seed Patent Watch
Why was Seed Patent Watch created?
OSA launched the Seed Patent Watch following years of discussion and research into the misuse and outright abuse of utility patents and other forms of intellectual property rights (IPR). The project will serve as a resource and authority on IPR associated with seed, and as a platform for discussion, research, and policy change – a think tank for seed IPR, where ideas and experiences are planted to grow impactful change. The values underpinning this project are the same that guide our organization. This project should not be viewed as a watchdog project, but rather an effort to shine light on problems with IPR while offering pro-active solutions for developing a fair seed system.
What is Organic Seed Alliance’s position on utility patents?
We do not support the utility patenting of life, including seeds, plants, and genetic traits. We believe that other forms of IPR are more suitable for providing protections and royalties to developers of varieties. In other words: Utility patents are the wrong tool for “protecting” seed. Indeed, one consequence of utility patents is quite the opposite – utility patents put the diversity and viability of our seed commons, and our ability to co-evolve with our food crops, at risk.
Is Organic Seed Alliance against IPR?
No, OSA supports fair and reasonable IPR tools and models that meet the following goals:
- Open access. Ensuring access to plant genetics to preserve and expand this invaluable resource
- Generating new diversity by increasing the quantity and quality of seed available, especially cultivars that help growers adapt to climate change and that do well in organic and other low-input systems
- Supporting the viability of independent plant breeders, seed growers, regional seed enterprises, Indigenous seed keepers, and other seed stewards committed to the principles of diversity, care of our planet, and shared benefit
- Overcoming resource constraints by enabling smaller entities access to fair IPR tools that allow them to compete in the marketplace.
- Fair compensation. Fostering investments that further innovation in plant breeding, including fair compensation for plant breeding contributions.
- Meeting the needs of participatory plant breeding projects and ensuring that information, data, and seed are shared.
- Promoting fair IPR tools serves as a form of resistance to egregious practices associated with highly restrictive IPR, including barriers to access, onerous licensing agreements, and fear of unintentional patent infringement, among others.
Does OSA have relationships with companies that utility patent seed?
While we are firm in our position against utility patents, we are committed to working alongside organizations and businesses that view these issues differently in order to evolve toward a seed system that is more functional and transparent, and that creates safe space for conversations about the complex issue of IPR.
Is organic seed patented?
Increasingly, some organic varieties are utility patented by companies that sell organic seed. These companies are operating at a scale where they’re competing with the largest seed companies in the world. It is our understanding that most certified organic varieties sold commercially are not utility patented.
How do I know if the seed I purchased has an IPR protection, such as a utility patent?
Ask the seed distributor! They want to hear from their customers about these issues. If they can’t tell you if there is an IPR associated with a particular variety, ask them to find out. Request that they share this information transparently in their seed catalogues.
Does a utility patent automatically mean that I can’t save or breed from that variety?
Not necessarily, but that is often the case. It depends on how the patent owner is enforcing its patents. Sometimes a “bag tag” is printed on a packet or bag of seed. This language is often in very small print and includes patent claims coupled with clear restrictions on seed saving, research, and other uses. Some patent owners give permission to breed from their patented varieties upon request.
What is the difference between a plant patent, utility patent, Plant Variety Protection (PVP), trademark, and Open Source Seed Initiative pledge?
OSA has developed the resource below that explains the differences between the various IPR tools associated with seed, the legal nature of them, and any general restrictions they provide. (Download the PDF)
Intellectual Property Rights on Seed (PDF)