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Not So Fast on Saving Soybean Seed when Roundup Ready 1 Patent Expires
If you’re thinking about saving soybean seed for next year’s
planting once the Roundup Ready 1 herbicide-tolerant trait patent expires in
2014, think again. There are many characteristics and traits within the same
seed varieties that are still protected by patents. If you save seed—also known
as brown bagging—you will be violating these patents.
That’s a conversation that DuPont Pioneer sales
representatives will be having with their farmer customers this fall. Although
the Roundup Ready 1 patent doesn’t expire until 2014, DuPont Pioneer officials will
start an education process with farmers now.
“We want farmers to understand no matter what happens with Roundup
Ready 1 when the patent expires, you still can’t save DuPont Pioneer soybean seed,”
says Randy Schlatter, senior manager for the Intellectual Property Program
Office at DuPont Pioneer. “When the patent on Roundup Ready 1 expires, we want brown
bagging to be a non-event because we have done a good job of educating
Schlatter notes that within each DuPont Pioneer soybean
variety, a number of traits and characteristics are patented, including native
traits that help soybeans resist soybean cyst nematode and white mold. Ditto
for patented genetics, patented breeding technologies, and patented transgenic
traits. Part of the money farmers pay for patented seed is placed back into
research to develop future technologies. Brown bagging would dry up funds that
make such traits, varieties, and breeding technologies possible, says
“We can’t develop new products without the revenue stream for
product development,” says Schlatter.
An example of what scant research revenues cause is the wheat
industry, says Schlatter. In that industry, seed saving has caused not as much
investment to occur as what has happened in row crops, he says. Without such
investment, varietal and trait introduction has lagged.
“A year like this always highlights how far we come in
genetics,” says Schlatter. “Some of the guys who farmed in 1988 say they would
not have harvested any crop this year had they been planting 1988 soybean varieties
this year.” Improvements via patent protection have helped make this possible,
Happened in Canada
DuPont Pioneer initiated an educational program in Canada
when the Roundup Ready 1 patent protection expired in that nation in 2011.
Before this occurred, Schlatter notes one of the top conversations in Canadian
agriculture was what would happen when the patent expired. “Everyone thought it
would be the Wild West, where everyone brown bagged,” he says.
That wasn’t the case. Once varietal patent protection
occurred, DuPont Pioneer established an education and enforcement program.
“Unless you bring the topic up, no one talks about it now,”
says Schlatter. “It has been accepted. We were granted varietal improvement
patents in Canada that gave us the same protection as in the United States. The
Canadians understood if they wanted to be a world player (in soybeans), they had
to do something. Otherwise the U.S. would outpace them on the global scale.”
When U.S. farmers now buy DuPont Pioneer soybean seed, they
agree to a program where their soybean fields may be tested to ensure
compliance. The intellectual property protection company DuPont Pioneer used in
Canada, Agro Protection, will conduct random testing in U.S. fields where the firm’s
patented soybean varieties are planted.
“We will start a farm check program, where we go out and sit
down and talk with famers, making sure their production records match their purchase
records and verify that through leaf samples,” says Schlatter.
No penalties for violators have been yet established. “We
want do a good job of education before we start any type of enforcement
program,” says Schlatter. “We want
to maintain our relationships. It doesn’t do us any good to anger our
Nor will it do famers little good to save seed, Schlatter
“A lot of farmers will bring it up brown bagging to their
seed guys, but for all intent and purposes, the practice of brown bagging is
outdated. People see there is value to buying seed every year. As farms get
bigger, they need trusted advisors to not only to deliver the seed, but provide
other agronomic services like scouting and mapping. Not a lot of farmers are
willing to give up that service.”
Brown bagging has dramatically decreased in the years since
Monsanto initially marketed its Roundup Ready 1 trait in 1996, he adds.
“There has been a whole generation where brown bagging has
not been done,” says Schlatter. “To spend a whole winter cleaning seed and
hoping it will not lose germination carries a lot of risk, especially with
commodity prices where they are.”
Expect other companies and universities to take steps to
enforce their patents. Ditto for commodity groups like the American Soybean
Association. “They are in favor of strong intellectual property protection,”