“Patents and Vegetable Crop Diversity”

There was a Patently-O post that came out during the New Year holiday period (thanks VHA for sending the link to me).  The title of the post was “Patents and Vegetable Crop Diversity” and included a paper of the same name published in November 2009.  The authors (Paul Heald & Susannah Chapman) open the paper saying:

“the data presented … strongly suggest that the intellectual property system (including the Plant Patent Act, the Plant Variety Protection Act, and utility patents…) plays an insignificant role in vegetable crop diversity, with the possible exception of corn”

Patently-O highlighted the following findings of the study:

  • “Only 3.8% of varieties available in 2004 were ever subject to protection under patent law or the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA);
  • More than 16% of all vegetable varieties that have ever been patented were commercially available in 2004; and
  • In 2004, approximately 4.5% of protected, or once protected, varieties consisted of inventions that were at least twenty years old.”

Visit this link to read or download the paper.  Also included in the post was a link to a previous paper from the same authors suggesting “vegetable crop diversity increased in the past century”.   I wanted to highlight the summary from that paper which can be read or downloaded HERE:

“The primary argument for maintaining crop diversity is based on the need to maintain a safety net of genetic diversity, to have a broad supply of genes available to breeders who can create more productive, weather-hardy, insect resistant, fungus resistant, and better-tasting crops. We hope our findings stimulate a discussion about the proper measure for that diversity. If the meaning of diversity is linked to the survival of ancient varieties, then the lessons of the twentieth century are grim. If it refers instead to the multiplicity of present choices available to breeders, then the story is more hopeful. Perhaps the most accurate measure of diversity would be found in a comparative DNA analysis of equal random samples of old and new varieties, work that remains to be done.“

(On a lighter note; I couldn’t help smiling reading the comments on the blog post.  Most of them were left 1st January, and it seems those commenting might have had just one too many during the festive period…  However for the record I soberly agree with them that Patently-O is a great blog!)

3 responses to ““Patents and Vegetable Crop Diversity”

  1. Fascinating post. Thanks. Clearly you have to buy into the idea that the primary reason to preserve diversity is indeed to supply breeders with raw material; if you don’t, the rest of their argument hardly matters. But it would be nice to see a good discussion of the pros and cons of all the measures of genetic diversity.

  2. I have read this paper with great attention.

    I have great, great trouble with the data. Fort instance, the table says that no turnip has ever been PVP protected; according to the Office’s data base (http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELprdc5069210) two have been. The authors highlighted in a previous paper, with a ‘hurrah’, that Fowler and Mooney made a math error in their 1983 “Shattering…”. They also succumb to a simple subtraction at the bottom of the first column.

    It also appears that the authors have only accounted for ‘patents pending’ (i.e. pending applications) and ‘expired patents’ and thus omitted the bulk of titles in force which should dominate the segment of recently created varieties in catalogues. If this finding is correct, the whole study is of course disqualified.

    I also have great, great trouble with the findings, with regard to not only on the main conclusions, but also the detail. I will not discuss the main conclusions since the study, by design, does not authorise them. As to the detail, for example, it is noted that “the vast majority of extant diversity in the U.S. Vegetable market is due to local innovation or importation”. That broadly matches George W. Bush’s “More and more of our imports come from overseas.”

  3. We’ve featured Andre’s comment at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog. Perhaps that will generate some discussion.


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