As those glorious seed catalogs begin to fill up your mailbox over the winter months, you may notice the notation PVP next to their descriptions. Plant Variety Protection (PVP) seeds are those produced by anyone who is a breeder of a unique variety of sexually reproduced or tuber-propagated plants.
In 1939, the Federal Seed Act was introduced to promote accurate labeling and purity for seeds in commerce and prohibits import or movement of adulterated or misbranded seeds. This law works in conjunction with the Plant Protection Act of 2000 to authorize the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to regulate the import of field crop, pasture and forage or vegetable seed that may contain noxious weed seeds. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service is responsible for enforcing the act.
The PVP Act was enacted in 1970 and amended in 1994 to include potatoes and other tubers. The voluntary program provides patent-like rights to breeders, developers and owners of plant varieties, giving them up to 25 years of exclusive control over new, distinct, uniform and stable sexually reproduced or tuber propagated plant varieties.
New plant varieties can take years to develop. Most plant breeders rely on income from their varieties to pay for their work. This is why breeders seek out intellectual property protection in one form or another, insuring they are credited for and able to profit from the varieties they created. The most common intellectual property rights mechanisms are patents and PVPs.
In general PVP is sought for open-pollinated (non-hybrid) varieties, however hybrid varieties may still be used.
A grower may save the seeds of a PVP variety for planting for their own use only but cannot legally distribute the seeds in any way. Only when PVP has expired can seed production for distribution be allowed.
An alternative to patents and PVP is the Open Source Seed Initiative. Modeled after other open source materials like computer software to support access to varieties and plant genetics for use by all, whether it is planting, seed saving or the development of new-varieties, OSSI disallows patents or PVP protection.
Have a gardening question? Email [email protected] and Maria may answer it in an upcoming column.