In 2022, the Science, Education and Culture Committee (SECC-S) of the Council of States submitted the motion ‘More transparency in the area of patent rights in plant breeding’ (in German, French and Italian). In this motion, it instructed the Federal Council to amend the bases of patent law and – where necessary – plant variety law so as to improve the transparency of patent rights in the area of plant breeding.
The IPI is responsible for implementing the committee’s motion. We are currently reviewing potential solutions. The aim is to submit a draft revision for public consultation by the end of the first quarter of 2024.
The climate is changing, resulting in new requirements for plant varieties. They need to withstand pests or heat or use less water. It is therefore important for both commercial firms and breeders to be able to carry out research into new varieties and plant characteristics and to cultivate them without breaking the law in the process.
Although plant varieties cannot be patented, it is entirely possible to patent certain characteristics of a plant that are not limited to one variety, e.g. resistance to mildew, a lower level of gluten in grains, and resistance to rotting. Such characteristics are the result of new biotechnological research.
If you produce this kind of innovation, you can protect it for up to 20 years with a patent.
To be able to use plant varieties with patented properties, third parties need permission from the patent owner. This usually comes in the form of a licence. However, licensing presents a challenge. It is currently unclear whether any particular seed type is subject to patents and, if so, to which ones. Patent protection is not indicated anywhere for seeds. Because it is not the seeds themselves that are protected, but merely a specific characteristic of the seeds. Moreover, a patent search cannot determine definitively which plant varieties have a patented characteristic.
Clarity about seed patent rights is crucial for variety breeders in Switzerland. The topic is also significant for food security and thus for all of us. Hence, a new legal solution is required that creates transparency for breeders and biotechnology companies simply and affordably.
We are also taking measures that do not require any change in the legal basis and can thus be realised quickly:
We provide breeders and researchers with high-quality patent information in the field of plant breeding. This enables them to set appropriate research and investment priorities.
We are enhancing our training activities for breeders and for the field of plant breeding in general. We agree the training topics directly with the interested parties. Our goal is to ensure the content meets their needs and strengthens their autonomy.
We are positioning ourselves permanently in the national plant breeding arena. To this end, we are organising a meeting to discuss solutions to promote transparency and voluntary licensing for patents in the area of plant breeding. We also aim to support events staged by third parties, such as the Sorten für Morgen (Varieties for Tomorrow) association and Swiss Food Research.
You can find more detailed information about the topic of plant breeding and patents here.
Harmonisation and partial revision of guidelines as of 1 July 2023
Conference on Intellectual Property & Sustainability at the University of Geneva
Symposium: "Best practices in the fight against counterfeiting & piracy – NFTs not your cup of tea? Well, they should: NFTs as a new way of fighting counterfeiting and piracy"