Certainty for plant breeders and researchers

Research and development is an ongoing process in the field of plants. Breeders cultivate new plant varieties that are more resistant to heat or pests, require less water or contain more nutrients, for example. To do so, they use existing varieties, which they cross, mate or modify using a (new) technical process. These varieties may be subject to patents that must not be infringed.

Although plant varieties cannot be patented, it is entirely possible to patent certain breeding processes and certain characteristics of a plant that are not limited to one variety, e.g. resistance to mildew or rotting or a reduced gluten content in grains. To be patented, these characteristics must have been created by microbiological or other technical processes. This includes the use of modern technologies such as the genetic scissors ‘CRISPR-Cas9’, a molecular biological process involving cutting a DNA strand at a specific location and precisely editing the DNA.


Licence necessary

All plant varieties can freely be used for further breeding. However, if a patented characteristic is also in the newly bred variety, the breeder must obtain permission from the patent owner if it wants to commercialise the new variety. Permission is usually granted in the form of a licence.


Unfortunately, nowadays it is almost impossible to know if a variety is affected by a patent: patented characteristics are not indicated on the seed packaging. Moreover, a patent search cannot definitively determine which plant varieties have a patented characteristic.


Clarity about patent rights with respect to seeds is crucial for variety breeders in Switzerland. The topic is also significant for food security and thus for all of us. Therefore, a new legal solution is required that creates transparency simply and affordably.