Intellectual Property Rights And Public Plant Breeding


Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) can play a critical role in protecting the genetic integrity of a variety and generating revenue to support continued breeding work.

While the private and public seed sector share the same goal of developing improved varieties, there are important differences that must be considered when developing appropriate IPR for cultivars developed in the public sector. Public breeding often focuses on crops with high social returns to investment but low private returns, such as small grains, perennials, cover and soil building crops, root and tuber crops, and tree crops. Public breeders often focus on long arc research, that is, research in which the payoff may require many years of work, often by many individuals. After development and proof of concept by the public sector, the new products are commercialized by the private sector with little return of funding to the public side. In many cases the public breeding sector collaborates with the private sector to commercialize public cultivars, and considerations must be made to facilitate this technology transfer.

Current germplasm exchange policies are inconsistent across public-sector institutions, and in many cases restrict plant breeders’ freedom to operate. Institutions have different royalty-sharing agreements that may or may not direct royalty money to the breeding program that generated it.These inconsistencies create confusion and inefficiencies for potential private sector partners wishing to commercialize public cultivars and for those paying royalties to support continued breeding efforts.

The two-day conference, held just prior to the National Association of Plant Breeders’ annual meeting in Raleigh, NC, convened stakeholders from the public and private sectors with the goal of developing a consensus document addressing the following specific objectives:

1) Develop a statement of best practices for the use of IPR and licensing agreements for public cultivars and germplasm

2) Provide examples of effective strategies for utilizing royalty money or other funding sources to support public cultivar development

3) Explore existing technology transfer mechanisms to ensure that useful germplasm from public programs moves out of breeding plots and into farmers’ fields

A summary of the proceedings is available here:

Proceedings IPR Summary

The full proceedings are available here:

Proceedings IPR Final

Crop Science Paper:

Crop Science web story: