Plant Breeders' Rights (National Catalogue)
The system of Plant Breeders' Rights, or Plant Variety Rights, is a form of intellectual property rights, which guarantees a return on investment to the breeder of a new plant variety.
The system allows the breeder of new varieties of agricultural, horticultural and ornamental plants to legally register the Right to control the propagation and marketing of those varieties. The breeder may subsequently authorise other agents to propagate and market seed or vegetative propagating material of the variety under the terms of a license. The holder of the 'Right' may charge a fee or royalty for the granting of such a license.
World agriculture and food supply have benefited greatly through vast increases in crop productivity. For example, for the major cereals, it is estimated that mean yields have increased by an average of 2% per annum in the past century, of which about half is due to improved crop varieties. Plant breeding requires a substantial investment of financial resources. Without the potential revenue stream of royalties, there would be no incentive for commercial breeding and the development of new and improved varieties. The royalty payable to the Right holder is contained in the purchase price of the certified seed or propagating material.
Plant Breeders' Rights valid in Ireland are either National (Irish) Rights, valid only in Ireland, or European Rights, which are valid across the EU. 'Rights' are valid for 25 years for most species and 30 years for varieties of trees, vines and potatoes.
In Ireland, Plant Breeders' Rights are registered by the office of the Controller of Plant Breeders' Rights, a corporate body, which is staffed by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food. A variety is eligible for Rights if it is distinct, stable, uniform (DUS), and new, and if it has an approved name. Once a Right has been established for a variety, the onus is on the holder of the Right to enforce it, if necessary by legal action. The Controller's role is in the establishment of the Right. Irish Plant Breeders' Rights are valid only in Ireland. Fees are payable to the Office of the Controller for the services provided, and renewal fees are payable each year to maintain Rights.
For some potato varieties popular in Ireland, the Plant Variety Right has expired and the certified seed of these varieties is freely marketable.
European Plant Variety Rights are valid throughout the EU, and are established by the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO). Fees are payable to the CPVO for the services provided. EU Rights take precedence over national Rights.
UPOV, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, is an inter-governmental organisation, established by the UPOV Convention in 1961. UPOV currently has 67 members (2009), including Ireland, and is headquartered in Geneva. UPOV defines the basic principles relating to variety protection, and it is on these principles that the National and EU Plant Breeders' Rights systems are based.
The Right of farmers to save their own seed, ('farmer's privilege'), is long established, and is protected by Irish and EU law. However, the holder of Plant Breeders' Rights is legally entitled to a royalty from those who farm-save seed. This royalty must be 'sensibly lower' than the certified seed royalty and, in the absence of a formal agreement between the 'Right holder' and the user, is normally set at 50% of the standard royalty. For relatively small-scale producers, there is an exemption to pay such a royalty.