These 3 little letters can have big consequences in the horticultural industry. PBR stands for Plant Breeders Rights, and is a scheme administered by the Commonwealth Governments IP Australia. It works much like a patent or trademark in other industries. Similar schemes operate in most countries such as the Community Plant Variety Office across Europe and the US Patent and Trademark office in the United States.
PBR is used to protect new plant varieties that are distinguishable, uniform and stable from any other commonly known varieties. PBR protection is legally enforceable and gives the breeder exclusive commercial rights to his or her plant being sold, providing them with the ability to earn royalties from it. It’s important that you don’t run around propagating PBR protected plants to then sell at your local school fair. It is legal to take a cutting for your own home garden but you can’t sell anything or commercially gain from the activity. The penalties for breaching PBR are enough to make you cringe. Keep an eye out for this next time you are at a local market or fete. It does happen occasionally and not only it is illegal but spare a thought for the plant breeder earns nothing from these sales.
Confused? I like to use a handy analogy of what happens in the book world. If you’ve ever daydreamed about having that novel published, then you’ve no doubt you’ve also dreamt about the fat royalty cheque that would allow you to retire from your day job. I know I have my holiday home in Tahiti already mapped out in my mind. The system is similar in the plant world, although perhaps the royalty cheques are not quite so fat!
PBR can be a time consuming and expensive process, however if you think you have a unique variety on your hands, it is well worth considering this level of protection. This weekend should you spot something unusual in your garden, the best thing to do it start taking photos. The first thing any horticulturalist will ask upon hearing about a new plant is ‘Can I see it’? A picture can certainly speak a thousand words in this industry; so document the plant’s height, habit, flowers – as much information as you possibly can.
Registering a new variety for PBR protection involves documenting the development of the new plant and how it differs from other known varieties. A comparative trial is usually grown to demonstrate the new varieties characteristics and must be verified by PBR officials. Usually this is focused on the physical characteristics, however if your plant is glowing in the dark or developing magic beans then a more in-depth analysis of its genetic make up may be required. An average species takes about 3 years for complete PBR registration and costs approximately $3000. Once completed, protection for most species lasts for a 20-year period. After this time the variety is free to be produced and sold on the open market.
The critical point for a breeder to understand is that selling a new variety starts a clock ticking. From the first date of sale in Australia a PBR must be filed within 12 months in order to be eligible for protection. I recommend seeking professional advice before anyone makes a new plant public, selling it in any form or distributing material. You’d surely kick yourself if you developed that elusive blue rose and couldn’t protect it. The first date of sale also has implications in other countries. Should you wish your plant to be protected around the globe, think twice and make sure you understand exactly how the system operates. You wouldn’t give that novel away without professional advice, so don’t do it with your new plant either.
Plants Management Australia is one of the professional agents that acts on behalf of breeders, filing all PBR applications, overseeing the trials and ensuring that breeders always maintain their own intellectual property. If you seek the help of a professional, always enquire as to whose name the application will be held in. I believe the breeder should always have control of their invention.
You can recognize plants covered by PBR protection in Australia by the PBR logo on their label (see left). Next time you’re in a garden centre be rest assured that when purchasing a PBR protected plant that a proportion of the sale is being returned to the plant breeder. It’s a just reward for all their hard work and dedication.
Is a PBR plant ‘better’ plant than one without PBR? One could argue that PBR demonstrates the breeder’s commitment and belief that they have something truly special on their hands. On the other hand, there are some great plants out there that for one reason or another have not been protected. What is without a doubt is that the scheme is there to protect plant breeders and help support our industry by valuing innovation. And that’s something we should all uphold.