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Today's Seed Patent Controversy

Today, many seeds are being patented. Many think that only genetically modified seeds, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are patented, however many organic seeds are also being patented. The definition of “patent”, according to is “the exclusive right granted by a government to an inventor, to manufacture, use, or sell an invention for a certain number of years.”

Seeds are patented by companies and protected by the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) of 1970. According to the The Plant Variety Protection Office (PVPO), they provide “intellectual property protection to breeders of new varieties of seeds and tubers.” The PVPO grants “certificates that protect varieties for 20 years (25 years for vines and trees)”. The certificates are recognized worldwide and “certificate owners have exclusive rights to market and sell their varieties, manage the use of their varieties by other breeders, and enjoy legal protection of their work”.

Patented seeds are a controversial subject among today’s farmers and seed companies. Many people believe seeds should not be allowed to be patented, however, many companies believe their hard work should be protected.

The company “Seminis” patents their seeds because “it takes their vegetable breeders between eight and twelve years to develop and commercialize new vegetable seed variety”. “Monsanto”, another company that has patented seeds, claims that their “primary reason for enforcing its patents is to ensure a level playing field for the vast majority of honest farmers who abide by their agreements, and to discourage using technology illegally to gain an unfair advantage”. Monsanto does not exercise their patent rights on seeds if trace amounts of their seeds are found “in a farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means”.

In the case of Bowman v. Monsanto Co., the United States Supreme Court stated that that patent exhaustion doctrine “does not permit a farmer to plant and grow saved, patented seeds without the patent owner's permission”. In Bowman, Bowman planted “Monsanto’s patented soybeans solely to make and market replicas of them, thus depriving the company of the reward patent law provides for the sale of each article”.

By patenting seeds, not only do companies protect their hard work, but the companies make more revenue off their seeds because farmers have to buy new seeds every year.

Should seeds be protected by patents? What do you think?


“Our Organic Seeds,” Seeds of Change.

United States Department of Agriculture.

“Who Owns the Seed?,”Seed Freedom, June 2012.

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