Frequently asked questions


What is plant breeding?


Plant breeding is a process by which humans modify a plant species. As a result, production can be adapted according to local conditions and global challenges, such as food security and climate change.

Gluten-free grain varieties and stronger tasting fruit and vegetable varieties can be bred in this way, for example.


What do breeders do and how many of them are there in Switzerland?


Breeders create, discover and develop new plant varieties without using genetic engineering. A breeder may be a private individual, a farmer, an agricultural cooperative, a researcher, a public institution or a small or large company.


There are ten active breeders in Switzerland. With the exception of the company ChemChina-Syngenta, they are all SMEs.


Why are patents important when it comes to plant breeding?


Patents and breeders’ rights are crucial for the development of new, high-quality varieties. Especially because the development of a new plant variety can take up to 15 years and cost several hundred thousand Swiss francs.

Patent protection combined with plant variety protection guarantees the necessary return on investment for the breeder and thus fosters the innovation needed for modern and sustainable agriculture.


Why is there not enough transparency with regard to patents?


Searches for a particular patent are complicated for breeders and they are not always guaranteed to find all relevant patents. There are three reasons for this:

  1. Searches for the names of plant varieties are only of limited use because a patent does not apply to a variety: it applies to a characteristic.
  2. Patents include a technical description. Characteristics, such as reduced gluten content in a wheat variety, are not named in this description.
  3. Even if a relevant patent is found, there is no list of all the affected varieties.

How many plant varieties in Switzerland are affected by patents?


It is difficult to estimate. At the end of 2023, only 1.5–2.7 per cent of over 50,000 protected plant varieties in Europe were affected by a patent.


According to research conducted by the IPI, the number of active plant patents in Switzerland is low (approximately 250).


What plant varieties are mainly affected?


Most of the varieties affected by patents are vegetables, particularly lettuce, which has around 200 varieties affected by eight patents.