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Plant breeders rejoice at European Patent Office decision



July 24, 2017

A recent decision by European Patent Office has plant breeders rejoicing, and it’s good news for gardeners as well.

The ruling of the EPO, which oversees the registration of new patents for Europe, recently delighted plant breeders by ceasing to grant patents on plants that are the result of classical cross breeding and selection.

For years the rules known as Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) have safeguarded breeder’s access to new and emerging plants as a source of novel genetic material from which to breed yet more new varieties of plants, without having to gain permission of the rights-holder to do so. This is known as the ‘breeders exemption’.

PBR is the international system under which new plants are registered, licensed to other growers and distributed around the world. It’s essentially the ‘copyright’ of the gardening world.

But until recently, the EPO’s practice of granting patents to plants already under PBR opened a legal loophole for growers to challenge the use of their plants in others’ breeding programs. Essentially it was a doubling up of rules – one EPO and the other PBR – whereas the former was not as clearly defined, in a legal sense, as the latter.

These two rules have now been brought into harmony. The International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) has been working behind the scenes, gunning hard for the continuation of PBR when it’s challenged by international law, as it’s an arrangement that has worked for breeders for a good many years.

AIPH Secretary General, Mr. Tim Briercliffe said:

“The ‘breeders exemption’ within PBR has served this industry well but we frequently find it is under threat through issues like patenting as well as in proposed legislation. We continue to monitor this situation and argue the case for growers when required.”


The AIPH has for years maintained that any restrictions on the workings of PBR will drastically reduce the number of new cultivars coming onto the market, as breeders would have to wade through a lot of red tape before even thinking of using someone else’s registered plant in a new breeding trial.

All these acronyms and corporate speak mean one thing for gardeners – an easier system that encourages breeders to create new plants unhindered by unnecessary bureaucracy. Which means more new plants to choose from in your local nursery.


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