Agreement keeps use of new seed varieties unrestricted

04/17/2014 10:17:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

Courtesy University of Wisconsin-MadisonWording on open-source seed packets let the user know that the varieties are to remain unrestricted.Much like open-source software, which is free to whoever wants to use it, a new open-source seed initiative strives to do the same with germplasm.

The Open Source Seed Initiative was established in 2011 by public plant breeders, farmers, non-governmental organizations and sustainable food systems advocates from around the country, according to a news release.

Members were concerned about the decreasing availability of plant germplasm contained in seeds for public breeders and farmer-breeders to work with.

Many of the seeds are tied up with patents, licenses and other forms of intellectual property rights that restrict their use as parent material.

The group gathered in mid-April at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains were released publicly using an ownership agreement known as the Open Source Seed Pledge.

Developed by the university, the agreement is designed to keep new seeds free for all people to grow, breed and share.

"These vegetables are part of our common cultural heritage, and our goal is to make sure these seeds remain in the public domain for people to use in the future," UW-Madison horticulture professor and plant breeder Irwin Goldman, who helped write the pledge, said in the release.

The agreement contains so few words that it can be written on a seed packet. Opening the package is a signal that the person agrees to abide to the pledge and not restrict use of that variety in the future.

Despite the pledge, Goldman still plans to license many of the new beet, carrot and onioin varieties he develops through the university's traditional patenting and licensing arm.

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