Seed is the vehicle for many forms of innovation, such as improvement in germplasm, specific genetic and agronomic traits, seed treatments and coatings. Each cycle of innovation adds to the knowledge base and is critical for the continued development of new and better crops that benefit farmers, growers and consumers. The research and development necessary to create and introduce new plant varieties often requires 5 to 15 years and millions of dollars in investment. Effective intellectual property protection reinforces the value and importance of scientific and technological innovations, helps to spur further innovation and provides benefits to society as a whole.
Effective Intellectual Property Protection
Intellectual property protection is most effective when there is a variety of IPR tools available to encourage a wide range of innovations and when there is robust enforcement of those forms of protection. ASTA believes that, worldwide, affordable intellectual property protection systems should be accessible so that innovations can be protected, as determined by the developer. These systems include:
- Plant Breeders Rights (PBR)/Plant Variety Protection (PVP)
- Trade Secrets
Robust intellectual property enforcement not only protects investments but also ensures that the farmer and society as a whole receive the full benefit of innovation. Enforcement should be:
- Fair and equitable
- Consistently applied
- Reasonable and accessible
The Benefits of Intellectual Property Protection
Supporting the needs of an increasing world population in a sustainable fashion, while protecting the environment, requires ongoing innovation in all agricultural cropping systems, including seeds, that supports improved productivity and nutritional content.
One of the key drivers of innovation within any industry is the capital that is invested in research and development. Robust intellectual property protection attracts the size and scope of investment necessary to develop improved seed varieties. These investments are generally long-term; may require significant amounts of capital resources; and entail large financial risks. Investments in research and development by the seed industry are directly related to the effectiveness of the intellectual property protection. These investments allow the public and private sectors the employment of skilled professionals, the development of new tools, rational land use, and access to specialized equipment–all of which will enable them to continue bringing innovations in the form of improved seed varieties for farmers and new products for consumers.
Effective intellectual property protection through PVP or patents is important as a driver of innovation, and provides a discrete period of protection and choice of protection types. Intellectual property protection of an improved seed variety supports the fundamental concept of a social contract made by the intellectual property right owner when the improved seed variety enters the public domain upon expiration of protection. This balance of protection and access contributes to achieving a wide diversity of improved varieties for farmers, resulting in increased agricultural productivity with resultant benefits to consumers and improved environmental sustainability.
ASTA stands ready to work with others to provide global leadership in the enhancement of intellectual property systems for the benefit of improved agricultural productivity and resource conservation.
Appendix: Intellectual Property Rights Tools in the United States
Plant Breeders Rights/Plant Variety Protection
The current UPOV system as enacted in 1991 provides exclusive marketing rights for a single variety, its harvested material, and, optionally, for products made directly from it. Plant Variety Protection (PVP) provides exceptions for experimental use by third parties for the purpose of plant breeding and new variety development. An exception for farmers permits them to save seed for the limited purpose of propagating for use on their own holdings. A PVP certificate is granted if the new variety is distinct, uniform and stable. These rights extend for a fixed period of not less than 20 years from the date of the grant of the PVP certificate. At the end of the protection period, the protected material enters the public domain, subject to any other existing and enforceable intellectual property rights.
A Utility patent can be used to protect single varieties in the United States as well as specific plant traits, methods and processes. Utility patents in the United States do not provide for a research exemption. There is no exemption that allows farmers to save seed in the case of using a utility patent to protect a single variety. A patent is granted if the invention is shown to be novel, nonobvious, and is adequately described (enabled). The term of protection for a utility patent is a fixed period of 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed. At the end of the protection period, the protected material enters the public domain, subject to any other existing and enforceable intellectual property rights.
A Trade secret covers proprietary information, such as a formula, method, technique or process. This information must have intrinsic value and be economically valuable to the competitors who do not have the information. Reasonable efforts must be made to maintain secrecy by the entity claiming the trade secret. There is no specified protection period for a trade secret.
A contract is an agreement between an intellectual property rights owner and another entity. The contract stipulates the parameters under which the other entity may use that intellectual property, including an agreed payment and conditions of use. Each contract has its own conditions as negotiated between the contracting parties.
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods, such as seed varieties, of one party from those of others. A trademark is registered to assure its exclusive use by its owner. A trademark cannot be applied to goods or services without permission of its owner.