Members of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) attended a weeklong meeting hosted by U.S. officials in Monterey, Calif. The UPOV’s Technical Working Party for Vegetables, made up of delegates from 13 countries, was also able to observe a lettuce field-trial in the Salinas Valley.
Representatives from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) Plant Variety Protection Office and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office helped coordinate the field trial visits. The foreign contingent was also given an overview of the U.S. system for the intellectual property protection of new plant varieties.
The U.S. system for protecting new varieties is unique in that plant breeders conduct the variety trials themselves. In the rest of the world the government typically runs the variety trials. In order to grant a certificate of protection, the Plant Variety Protection Office evaluates breeders’ trial reports to determine if a variety is new, distinct from other varieties, genetically uniform and stable through successive generations.
Improving and protecting plant varieties ensures the quality of food, feed, fiber, and other products. It can also mean lower prices because stable and uniform plant varieties are more easily grown in higher numbers.
The Plant Variety Protection Office, a unit in the AMS Science and Technology Program, gives legal intellectual property rights – similar to patents – to breeders of new varieties of plants produced by seeds (such as corn and soybean) or by tubers (potatoes). The program protects intellectual property rights by offering certificates to owners of unique plant varieties for introduction into the marketplace.
Established in 1961, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants is currently comprised of 70-member nations – including the U.S. – and ensures that the property rights of each member nation are respected in the other nations.
The protection of these rights—both nationally and internationally—encourages the pursuit and development of new plant varieties and also helps protect the quality of seed available in the market. Many of the certificates could be awarded to varieties that could increase food security in countries that have been devastated by plant disease.