Plant Variety Protection
Plant Variety Protection is a legal designation designed to protect plant breeders. It grants them an intellectual property right over the seed, whether the new cultivar was achieved through traditional open-pollinated methods, by hand or through genetic modification. No one else is allowed to profit from sale of that seed over an ensuing period of time. The seeds can be exchanged amongst researchers for research purposes, though.
Even if it's a cross that happened naturally on one farm and was discovered by farmer A, and the same cross occurs spontaneously on the land of farmer B, if farmer A registered it first, he has the rights to the seed for sale purposes.
It is designed to repay research efforts and provide funding for ongoing efforts. Some argue though that to date, firms aren't re-investing their enhanced return in Research and Development.
The protection, though, only lasts for 18 years, and if consumer preference during that time changes against the product, the protection is really worth money for even less time than that.
To be granted PVP status, the breeder must prove that the plant is new, distinct, uniform and stable. New and distinct means compared to all previously existing varieties. Generally, the way people prove it is to state the variety that the new plant is most similar to, and then state all the differences between that variety and their new one. (The reasoning is that if it's different from the one it's most similar to, then it's different from all others.) PVP status is very expensive to obtain because of all the evidence and documentation you must assemble to submit in your application.
Just because something is PVP protected, it's not a guarantee of better performance in some way. Some, though, see it as a certification of certain standards -- that it's guaranteed to produce what it says, and will perform in a certain way in specific soil conditions, climate, length of days and growing season, etc.
A farmer can re-use PVP seed, but only on his own land, and not supply it, free or otherwise, to someone else. They can't trade saved seed with other farmers in exchange for other seed to grow, thus allowing that other farmer to grow the PVP seed. But, because the farmer can re-use seed, PVP seed is therefore better for farmers than hybrids, because they do have viable seed that they are allowed to reuse. Farmers can save as much seed as they can reasonably plant (if your land requires 800 bushels of wheat grain to plant, you can save up to that amount), and you can replant it to grow a crop for commercial purposes. In America, if the seed happened to be from a PVP variety purchased as PVP seed and that got its PVP prior to 4 April 1995, they are even allowed to sell that 800 bushels of seed if they wish, but they can't sell it under the variety name.
If you purchased the grain sold as food or feed, you can't use it for planting purposes. If the produce is grain or beans, for instance, and is being sold in a form meant for processing but that could be used for growing, when sold it has to be accompanied with the notice that it is PVP.
Varieties that have already been sold commercially for more than 1 year in America, or 4 years abroad, can't be PVP ed -- this stops someone from taking heritage varieties and PVPing them. F1 hybrids are also excluded; hybrid seed has its own built-in protection.
PVP is now being passed in various countries around the world in order to comply with the TRIPS (Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement passed in Philippines on 6 June 2002. But there are many countries in which PVP laws have been passed, but in which they are not really enforced. Enforcement is a civil matter, done by the owner of the PVP being able to afford to take people to court and sue them.
PVP seed has on the label "US Protected Variety Unauthorized Propagation Prohibited."
In America, the Plant Variety Protection Act was first passed 24 December 1970, amended October 1994.
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Protected Variety Plant; PVP