Intellectual Property and policy

Intellectual property (IP) refers to particular categories of creations of the mind (inventions) which are protected by law or institutional regulations under  which a set of exclusive rights or protections are recognized. Common types of intellectual property rights include copyrights, trademarks, patents and plant variety rights.   Rights allow the inventor or holder of the rights to define use, distribute, license and charge for use of the invention. 

As applied to plant material, such rights grant control over the propagating material (including seed, cuttings, divisions, tissue culture) and harvested material (cut flowers, fruit, foliage) of a new variety or plant material incorporating the invention (transgenic events, unique genes).  IP rights vary considerably internationally but, for instance, IP protections may be granted for a new variety (or hybrid) if it is distinct from other known varieties (or hybrids) for defined traits (such as height, maturity, color, disease resistance, etc), uniform, and genetically stable (not segregating). 

A distinct category of IP is patents but not all materials protected by IP are patentable. To be patentable, the plant material would have to be “novel” in some manner meaning some characteristic that is entirely new from others.  Further, its development would have to involve an inventive step that could not have been deduced by a person with average knowledge of plant breeding.  For this reason, in many countries, plant varieties are not patentable.  Nevertheless, institutions (or persons) in any countries may restrict use or demand compensation for the use of plant materials (via licensing, royalties, etc) under IP policies  developed by the originating institutions to regulate such use.

Partners in GCP projects are contractually obligated to share germplasm developed with full or partial funding from GCP with other GCP Consortium members.  However, this obligation does not preclude licensing plant materials for commercial use.

This preliminary elucidation of IP as it applies to plant materials will in the coming weeks be boosted with additional learning resources salient to plant breeding and materials transfer.

For more information and assistance with matters of Intellectual Property and Policy, contact Larry Butler or Fred Okono.

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