Seed World

Plant Breeders’ Rights: Fact from Fiction

Biology laboratory nature and science, Plants with biochemistry structure and chemical formula on green background.

The aim of the European Seed series on Myths, Fake News, Misinformation and Disinformation is to dive deeper, taking a closer look at a variety of seed related topics. This article looks at the myths surrounding plant breeders’ rights.

Read part one of this article here.

Myth: UPOV only supports plant varieties that have been commercially produced and are targeted at industrial farmers

Fact: The UPOV system seeks to support and boost new plant breeding for all sorts of farmers; ranging from small to large, and conventional to organic. Examples of how plant breeders’ rights have been utilized by the public sector to transfer new varieties to both commercial and resource-poor farmers were presented at the “Seminar on Plant Variety Protection and Technology Transfer: The Benefits of Public-Private Partnership” and the “Symposium on the Benefits of Plant Variety Protection for Farmers and Growers.”

In the latter, Dr. Vuyisile Phehane of the Agricultural Research Council in South Africa, showed that through PBR of their publicly bred varieties, they were able to enhance benefit sharing, creating an effective technology transfer, aimed at agricultural development and growth. And through PBR they also enabled greater competitiveness of the agriculture sector, contributed to food security and incentivised innovation.

Or Young-Hae Kim, a farmer/breeder from the Republic of Korea, who showed that since the introduction of PBR in the country, there had been a strong increase of varieties developed by individual Korean breeders. Many individual breeders came out and lots of varieties had been developed in the 15 years after PBR introduction. The newly developed varieties provided additional income to both the farmers, as well as the breeders.

Myth: Varieties that aren’t covered by plant breeders’ rights are in some way still governed by the UPOV Convention

Fact: Varieties that are not or are no longer protected by plant breeder’s rights are not governed by the UPOV system. This is a fundamental benefit sharing aspect of the UPOV system. Once the right has expired, been surrendered, or revoked, the variety is considered public domain. As a result, a farmer can replant a wide variety of unprotected plants without the breeder’s consent. To understand the full picture in each UPOV Contracting Party, it is required to reference the applicable national (or regional) legal framework.

Myth: There are no benefits to plant breeders’ rights or to UPOV membership

Fact: Several reports have indicated that both the implementation of the UPOV Convention in the form of a national or regional system for plant breeders’ rights, and membership of UPOV are important for countries to enjoy the full benefits which plant breeders’ rights are able to generate. The introduction of the UPOV system of plant breeders’ rights and UPOV membership were found to be associated with:

  1. increased breeding activities,
  2. greater availability of improved varieties,
  3. increased number of new varieties,
  4. diversification of types of breeders (e.g., private breeders, researchers),
  5. increased number of foreign new varieties,
  6. encouraging the development of a new industry competitiveness on foreign markets, and
  7. improved access to foreign plant varieties and enhanced domestic breeding programs.

Myth: Plant Breeders Rights and the UPOV system make farmers dependent on high levels of inputs

Fact: This is not the case. None of the national or regional plant breeders’ rights systems nor the UPOV system makes farmers choose any particular varieties or farming method. The development of new varieties that are adapted to the needs of farmers is encouraged by the UPOV system. If plant breeders were to develop varieties that do not meet the needs of farmers, the farmers would not grow such varieties and the plant breeders would not receive any income.