How are reproductive uses of certain seed varieties protected by law?
The U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) was created by Congress in 1970 to encourage the development of new crop varieties. Development of new varieties enables farmers to increase crop quality and reduce losses from destructive pests. The primary goals of the U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act are to provide incentives for companies to invest in development of superior plant varieties and to help farmers remain competitive.
Under PVPA, the companies that develop new varieties and the producers who use those varieties have certain rights and responsibilities. The federal act provides protection for new plant varieties much like a patent governs the use of inventions. Developers of new varieties may collect royalties from their products and use that money to fund other crop development projects.
How have recent changes to the law affected my rights and responsibilities?
To improve the act's enforceability, Congress amended the PVPA in 1994. The amended PVPA affects only the varieties gaining protected status after April 4, 1995.
Under the revised law, owners of a particular seed variety may sue anyone who sells or participates in the sale of a protected seed variety without authorization. A court may order wrongdoers to pay up to three times the amount of lost royalties, plus costs for bringing the suit.
In addition, owners of a protected variety may seek damages for crops produced from unlawfully obtained seed.
Varieties of seed that gained protected status prior to April 4, 1995, are subject to a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that farmers may save or sell for reproductive purposes only the amount of protected seed necessary for planting their own farms. Previously, farmers could save or sell up to half the crop produced from a protected variety.
How do I tell if a variety is protected?
The label of a protected variety will read, "U.S. Protected Variety -- Unauthorized Propagation Prohibited." The "PVP" symbol may also be used to denote a protected variety.
What can I do with a crop produced from a protected variety of seed?
The PVPA only applies to seed intended for reproductive purposes. Farmers may continue to sell their crops through standard channels at the cash grain price. However, selling the product for more than the market price or using the variety name in making the sale are both classified as using the seed for reproductive purposes and are prohibited by law.
With varieties protected before April 4, 1995, farmers may either sell or plant the amount saved as long as no advertisement or third party is used to make the sale. Farmers may not sell varieties protected on or after April 4, 1995, except for non-reproductive purposes. As always, farmers may use the seed for planting on land they own, rent or lease.
Who enforces seed variety protection laws?
The Illinois Department of Agriculture enforces the Illinois Seed Law, which incorporates PVPA requirements. Under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the IDOA also assists in the enforcement of the Federal Seed Act within Illinois. The state Agriculture Department takes action only when owners have specified that a variety be sold strictly as a class of certified seed. In other instances, the owners may still opt to file a civil suit.
Where can I find out more about the PVPA and other seed laws?Illinois Department of Agriculture
Bureau of Agriculture Products Inspection
P.O. Box 19281
Springfield, IL 62794-9281