New Plant Breeder’s Guide Helps Keep Crop Genetics in the Public Domain

Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) and the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA are pleased to share a new free resource for plant breeders: a guide to defensive publication, a way to keep genetic resources in the public domain. Read and download the guide here.

Corporate consolidation in seed breeding

Corporate consolidation is a growing and concerning trend across the agricultural industry. In fact, just four firms control over 60% of global seed sales. When only a handful of companies provide the majority of seeds to farmers, the genetic biodiversity of available crop species decreases. And as the climate changes and we see an increasing frequency of extreme weather events, farmers need more seed varieties that are resistant or tolerant to new growing conditions.

However, seed companies and agribusinesses patent crop genetic resources, preventing farmers from using their seeds without permission and payment. This limits plant breeders’ access to genetic resources that would allow them to create new varieties for farmers.

What is defensive publication?

Some plant breeders are seeking options to stop plant genetic resources from ending up in agribusiness patents. One of these is defensive publication: the act of publishing details about an invention or discovery to preclude others from patenting it. Through defensive publication, plant breeders can keep genetic material available without restrictions or infringement. This could ultimately make seeds more affordable and accessible for farmers.

What’s in the guide?

Titled A Breed Apart: The Plant Breeder’s Guide to Preventing Patents through Defensive Publication, this guide is free and accessible to users of all skill levels. From patent law fundamentals to assistance creating a document, it includes the practical resources needed to draft, publish, and use defensive publications in the plant breeding industry. 

Plant breeding at RAFI-USA

RAFI-USA helped start the Southern Farmers Cooperative in 2017. The goal of the cooperative is to develop organic, regionally-adapted corn and soybean varieties. By breeding new varieties in the public domain, farmers have the freedom to replant their crops growing season after growing season. This not only contributes to more genetically diverse crop varieties but also decreases farmers’ reliance on large agribusinesses.

Seed breeding trials and practices like defensive publication are both tools that public plant breeders can use to help farmers access regionally-adapted seeds for a productive and resilient farming system.

Click here to access the Guide and learn more about CAFS work. This material is based upon work supported by the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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