Openness

Free the Seeds!

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The Open Source Seed Initiative wants to make carrot seeds more like software. That may seem like an odd project, but consider this: It's currently possible to patent plants with certain traits, whether they are created through traditional breeding or biotech modification. Worried that the trend of increasingly vague, aggressively enforced patents was discouraging innovation, a group of scientists at the University of Wisconsin–Madison got together in 2012 with the goal of producing and distributing seeds outside of the conventional intellectual property framework—much in the same way that the open source Linux operating system exists in parallel with Microsoft Windows and iOS, or the anyone-can-edit resource Wikipedia competes with Encyclopaedia Britannica.

While the legal analogy isn't perfect—patents in plant breeding operate quite differently than intellectual property in the world of computer code—the group has hit on a novel solution to encourage the kind of intellectual cross-pollination that continues to invigorate the digital world.

A short pledge is printed on each packet of broccoli, kale, or quinoa seeds. Tearing open the envelope signals that users agree to keep the seeds—and anything derived from them—in the public domain, creating a growing pool of genetic material for researchers and farmer-breeders to borrow from without fear of patent repercussions.

Bryce Richter/University of Wisconsin–Madison

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  1. are pot seeds available?

    1. Junior high pot dealers are renowned for their ability to deliver seeds. (and oregano)

      1. and stems.

      2. Someone’s mom was angry when she found out her idiot kid sold $8 worth of her oregano as $1 worth of fake weed.

    2. Appears the project posted this as a list of currently available seed: http://osseeds.org/seeds/

  2. I think this is an awesome project. In fact it’s as awesome as the allowing of any plant trait to be patented is awful. And allowing of any plant trait to be patented is really really awful. So it’s really really awesome.

    1. And allowing of any plant trait to be patented is really really awful.

      Why? It seems to me to be the perfect example of the Lockean view of property. There is something in the commons of nature, I expend my labor and creativity to alter it. As that trait wouldn’t have existed without my husbandry, that trait is mine.

      1. Agreed, Heroic Mulatto. The problem here is not intellectual property, but a lack of enforcement of trespassing laws, as Joel Salatin has explained. If a farmer accidentally grows seed subject to IP because it grew onto his land, he should be able to sue the originator of the seed for trespassing, or at least be completely exempt from any IP violations. Furthermore, the IP protection should only extend to selling the seed, and not to selling plants grown with the seed, according to the exhaustion doctrine.

        However, I have no problem with open source seeds, and I think this is a great idea. Though, it should be emphasized that this is for NEWLY DEVELOPED varieties, and not varieties that have been around forever. No heirlooms are under any IP protection. In fact, the opposite is true. We are loosing heirlooms and their excellent flavor profiles, unless folks like the Seed Savers Exchange step in. So I think the bigger threat is losing the intellectual heritage we already have, rather than worrying about the fact that the developer of a new variety has 20 years of exclusivity.

        1. That’s a good point about heirlooms. I am familiar with SSE though I’ve never participated. My wife trades seeds from our garden with some of her Thai friends, and we support companies like Kitazawa. I think a big part of it just boils down to education and awareness. I’d love to see victory gardens and such become popular again, not only as an ever so slight push toward greater self-reliance, but they just taste better.

        2. What do you think of someone selecting for the IP protected seed, and then planting it without paying the license fee?

          For example, if I know my neighbor is growing Roundup Ready canola, and I spray the borders of my field with Roundup, on the expectation that some of the seed will have blown into my field, then I harvest the surviving plants, save the seed, and plant it the next year. Is that “tresspassing” on my property? Or is that me stealing something I know is patented?

          1. Something else. But GE seed blowing onto your property (when you don’t want it) violates your property rights.

            1. Coase.

        3. If some farmer growing ordinary soybeans has his plants fertilized by his neighbor’s Roundup-ready variety I do not think there should be any restriction on the farmer’s ability to sell the hybridized fruit of his crop – as ordinary soybeans. If he were somehow restricted then that should make the Roundup-ready grower liable for the damages the pollen from his own crop inflicted.

          However I do not think it right for the farmer to turn around and sell his hybrid as “Roundup-ready” because then he is intentionally infringing on something that is not his.

          If your monocled neighbor, after returning from a recent trip to the bank, accidentally drops his stack of $100 bills, and some of them blow onto your property that does not make them yours.

          The problem isn’t so much that things can be patented, as it is that patent law can be abused.

      2. Patenting a trait? So I can’t develop a plant with an identical trait via my own means? No. I can’t agree with that.

        1. Or just save seed from your plants that were pollinated by the patented crops your neighbors planted. The entire idea is absurd, so of course it has to be embedded into every aspect of federal “law.”

        2. I don’t like the idea of IP on any level, because it’s protecting an idea, not property. If I had an idea to squeeze lemon juice intoa cup, add some sugar and sell it to passers by, I have no right to tell the guy across the street that he cannot do it too.

          I understand that the intent of IP is to protect your ability to capitalize on it, but it is heavy handed government enforcement and therefore is subject to government interpretation. And we all know how much skill the government has interpreting its own laws… Let’s just say they interpret laws to suit political ends… In a free society, contracts are a critical tool for protecting ones business interests. These open source seeds have a contract on the label, why can’t Monsanto just print a similar contract on its packages of seed stipulating the terms of use of their product? If their contracts become too onerous, competition will sort them out of the market.

          On the other hand, if no contract exists, the seller of such seeds must understand that their product will only be unique for a short while and so they must continue to innovate…

          The only role government plays here is as enforcer of contracts. I would think that people who create anything novel or unique would prefer to set the terms of their products use in a contract rather than under some generic one-size-fits-all government edict.

          1. “I don’t like the idea of IP on any level, because it’s protecting an idea, not property.” Not exactly. A patent protects an invention, formula or process, but not the idea. Copyrights protect designs, logos, works of art, songs, literary works, recipes… the list is almost endless. You cannot patent or copyright the idea of a bicycle or of a sweeter, crisper apple. You may be able to copyright the exact sweetness or crispness of your apple though… but not sure you could enforce those rights.

            1. An invention is an idea made real. Your use of the term “idea” refers to the concept that our minds posess some generic concept of a real thing, for example, we can imagine a chair, it is a mental impression based on experience.

              The idea of a bicycle and the creation of a bicycle go hand in hand, for one cannot build what one cannot imagine. Same holds for any other amalgamation of matter, light, sound or flavor. I cannot prevent others from having the same idea and acting upon it. To enforce every novel idea as if it were some sacrosanct right of the first person to think it is absurd. I can put the same ingredients together and make my own cookies, and I can sell them to whomever I want regardless of whether or not they are EXACTLY the same as a Nabisco product. I haven’t stolen anything, I’ve only created something. When the govt does along to enforce IP on me, they are using force to say that I’m not allowed to bake cookies a specific way and then sell them. That’s bullshit.

              1. I spend a great deal of time, labor, and money developing my idea, patent the resulting invention, process, and formula, but according to you, protecting the property rights that resulted from my labor and investment of my capital is bullshit. Ok, got it.

                1. You spend that effort to create something you want to sell and that product is your property to sell, nobody can take that property from you to sell it, but just because you invented it doesn’t mean others should be denied in the right to make their own version of your invention and sell it as well. Again, can you stop your neighbor from selling lemonade he made even if it has the same special added ingredients in the same ratios?

                  Property is defined by physical bounds. Nobody can take the fruit of your work, but they can work to produce a similar product for their own needs and ends.

                2. Also, consider that your skill at creating a product may be superior to those copying it, or it may be inferior. Do consumers have to forever pay homage to your product if others are making it better than you?

              2. A novel is nothing more than an idea expressed in print. A song an idea expressed in sounds. Is Michelangelo’s David worth no more than the rock from which it was carved? Would you have every such creation cease to have value?

                “… I can sell them to whomever I want regardless of whether or not they are EXACTLY the same as a Nabisco product.”

                Yes, indeed you can. If only because they are no longer (if ever) patentable. What you cannot do is brand them as Nabisco, since you do not own that trademark.

                That you apparently do not recognize the distinction makes it appear you are arguing from ignorance more than anything else.

                1. A work of art has value because of the skill of the artisan who created it. A trademark is not the same as a patent, it is a unique identifier that identifies the origin of a product, not a patent on the product. The only thing that can legitimately be called property is the object that is created, not the ideas or methods behind the object.

                  Obviously some things are easier to copy than others, which is why trademarks were created in the first place, to tell consumers who actually created the product.

          2. Patents do sunset. They aren’t forever.

      3. The problem apparently is one in a lot of biotech, which is that the examination of their patents has often involved only a trivial showing of utility and unjustifiedly broad claims.

        Discovery of real utility ought to be encouraged by patents w appropriate claims. Just saying, “I’ve got a composition of matter here that can be distinguished from others in some way that I don’t have to explain the significance of, and it’s useful as, uh, a doorstop, so I claim everything conceivable for it,” is bull shit.

        1. Granted I haven’t spent years researching the subject, still from what I’ve read that would be it. Vague and overly broad claims. Not good for business and not good for our species in general.

          And with seed thing they’ve been going as far as harassing and arresting individuals who’ve inadvertently “allowing” their crops to be pollinated by a neighbor’s land which was growing from patented seed. That seems a little extreme.

          1. *been found allowing

            1. In the case your referring to, they didn’t just allow their crops to be cross pollinated. They deliberately selected for them. Nobody has ever been sued for accidental cross-pollination.

          2. I agree with this. There’s nothing wrong with patenting plants, IMO. But patent law IN GENERAL has a major problem with overly broad and vague claims getting patented.
            It’s a problem in particular for software patents, but it could apply to trivial crop improvements as well.

      4. Intellectual property is always and everywhere an infringement on material (read: actual) property rights. It’s nonsensical to speak of mixing your labor with an idea that is infinitely replicable, as the idea isn’t unowned (or universally owned, in Locke’s formulation) property.

        That I devised a means of mowing a cool diamond pattern into my lawn does not mean that I can dictate what patterns you may mow into your own lawn. This is one of the most basic points a libertarian theorist could make and therefore one of the most contested by Objectivists and their ilk.

        1. So if I devise a process (means) of producing the tastiest donuts ever, I shouldn’t be able to patent that process and prevent someone else from using my process in direct competition? Why can’t they devise their own different process?

  3. Free the Seeds!

    1. See the male privilege yearning to be free.

      1. Yes, I am a male. And one of these days I’d love to experience “privilege.” Just for a day. Of course that’s about as likely as waking to a sky with two suns here on planet Earth.

        1. What! Isn’t Obama the Prodigal Sun?

          1. Only if he believes the Prodigal Sun is the center of the sum of all Gigantiverses.

  4. And one day we can make VeggieTales a reality!

    1. You really want to take away Nikki’s title don’t you?

      1. He’s going to have to work a lot harder if that’s what he wants. Being the worst is more than just a hobby. It’s a way of life.

        1. They don’t realize how little of my worstness has even been revealed yet.

          1. You’re like the worst iceberg ever.

            1. Just the tip?

              1. Meat iceberg.

            2. Iceberg lettuce?

    2. As long as we don’t have to become vegan I’m fine with it. People who murder plants just to use them as food suck.

  5. 20 year patent term, and the fact that patents are one of the few things actually permitted by the Constitution…eh, not seeing much of a libertarian angle here.

    Plus, patents require disclosure, so if it’s patented, it’s pretty “open” anyway.

    1. So, if I’m a smart molecular biologist and I genetically modify a flavr-savr tomato so it tastes better you are for sending in jack-booted thugs from the government on behalf of Monsanto to stop me? Sorry, denier of the universe, but you might qualify as socialist-fascist around these parts… or not. I’ve found that a lot of the time it’s who the government is intervening on behalf of that determines whether one is really true blue.

      Why would something that is constitutional make any difference to a libertarian? Slavery is constitutional–at least in the unmarked up version.

      1. american socialist|5.24.15 @ 2:35PM|#
        “[…] I’ve found that a lot of the time it’s who the government is intervening on behalf of that determines whether one is really true blue.[…]”

        No, shitstain, what you’ve found is your ignorant inability to understand much.
        Fuck off.

        1. Shrugs. I’m not for having government bureaucrats determine what scientists work on.

          1. american socialist|5.24.15 @ 4:25PM|#
            “Shrugs. I’m not for having government bureaucrats determine what scientists work on.”

            Which is a laugh riot, since in a socialist system, there is little else to direct science.
            Between lies, hypocrisy and out-and-out stupidity, you don’t post much else here.

      2. Huh? If you modify a tomato to taste better, that’s your invention, and a patent could protect your investment. I don’t see where Monsanto can stop you from inventing your thing rather than stealing theirs.

        Maybe you’re referring to a situation where one invention depends on another of someone else’s. Happens all the time in inventing, & patents help with that by their disclosures. I’m sure that with your mutual inventions, you can work something out w Monsanto.

        1. You mean I can start with a flavr-savr and genetically modify it to make it taste better? Oh goodie… Maybe I should contact my lawyer first just to see if you are right.

          It’s pretty funny that libertarians get so bitchy about tax collectors collecting money for things like, oh, the roads and mass transit options that bring Monsanto’s tomato geneticists to work, but then don’t get so bitchy about completely Byzantine patent protection laws that keep people who don’t work for Monsanto from mutagenizing tomato genes. Oh well, I guess not all government apparatchiks are created equal.

          1. american socialist|5.24.15 @ 5:48PM|#
            “It’s pretty funny that libertarians get so bitchy about tax collectors collecting money for things like, oh, the roads and mass transit options that bring Monsanto’s tomato geneticists to work,[…]”

            It’s pretty obvious that you’re incapable of understanding simple differences.

        2. This is correct. The whole point of patents is to get people to disclose their technology, SO THAT other people can improve upon it.

          Although I’m not totally sure that merely adding an entirely different trait would count, if the inventions are independent of eachother. You would have to (say) find an even better gene than the one that was originally used. Not just add a new, independent gene.

          1. I thought the point of patents was a form of rent where government requires consumers to use one producer when wanting a specific (aspect of a) product.

            When I worked in R&D at a chemical company they avoided seeking patents so that the competition was not aware of how they were proceeding. The products were similar and they wanted to preserve the process.

            1. You answered your own question. Companies will sometimes not seek a patent, so they can avoid disclosing their tech and keep it a trade secret. The problem comes in that if everyone is doing that it makes it harder for new innovators to improve on the technology, because everything is secret. Nobody will publish any papers if anyone else can just rip them off immediately. Thus, patents were invented so that companies would publicly disclose their technology, but still be able to profit from having an exclusive right to produce it.

              In some cases, companies will still not disclose technology if they think it would be too easy for someone else to modify it and get a patent on the improvement.

              1. I don’t see Monsanto using patents to help their competition further advance GE seed research. Color me cynical.

                Also worked for an engineer that used to work at a microchip manufacturer that pushed getting patents so they could say “We were issued Z patents in Y year.”

      3. Aren’t flavr-savr tomatos out of patent by now?

    2. The Constitution isn’t a libertarian document. Neither were the Articles. At best they’re paleoconservative and trending toward the classical liberal side of the political spectrum, but it’s not like Alexander Hamilton and John Adams weren’t among the Framers.

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    1. Do you and she carry around your own mattresses to make earning easier, like Emma Sulkowicz does?

    1. Maybe you should try spending time with your seed instead of neglecting then all the time to live in you’re echo chamber lol lol lol

      /Botard the Hotard

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  8. So…are the seeds we buy off the racks at the hardware store patented? I’ve never actually read the small print on the packets.

    1. I’ve never seen any OTC seeds that were patented, and we’ve been raising all kinds of open-pollinated and heirloom stuff for decades, conventional and weird alike.

      The only agricultural IP that I’ve ever run into was in cash crops, especially corn, where Big Ag has a huge stake in controlling seed from year to year. I’m told by oldtimers that in the old days farmers bought hybrid seed each year that would peter out if you saved them after the first year or two, and thus there was no need for corporate lawyers to chase after dastardly gene thieves.

    2. Yes, they are, unless marked as heirloom. Most of the seeds in Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, the big box stores, are hybrids and patented. They don’t worry about the patent too much, because you would have difficulty finding out their breeding process and plants used to produce the seeds for sale. Additionally, if you plant seeds from any veggies you grow, the plants are likely sterile, so 2nd generation seeds are worthless.

      Plants marked as heirloom are not patent protected AND if you save the seeds from veggies you grow, you can plant a next generation. If you are very careful in each successive generation to prevent cross pollination, thus retaining a true heirloom, you can continue saving seeds and replanting generation after generation indefinitely.

      1. The seeds from my garden grown veggies certainly are not sterile.
        I get 2nd generation tomtoes, squash, cilantro, mustard greens, etc. all the time.
        And I am definitely not buying heirloom varieties.

        The problem is more likely that the hybrid seeds when crossed with themselves don’t produce the same plant. I.e. You end up with cherry tomatoes after a couple of generations.

        1. Yeah the broccoli I’ve tried letting go to seed does not produce remotely the same quality as the first generation. It’s quite horrific actually.

    3. The term is “open pollenated”.

  9. When someone develops a carrot that taste like bacon then maybe I’ll care.

  10. I hope it will work, otherwise, I think, we are going to face extinction of some very important fruits and vegetables. Even now I hear from friends and relative, who are into gardening, that it is not the same anymore… that it is nearly impossible to grow something without use of additional chemicals.

    1. There are multiple possible reasons for their statements. One they may be trying to grow heavily hybridized crops, which will produce well under very controlled circumstance , but otherwise can be very fragile. Also they may be insisting on achieving unrealistic production – far too many people rush their crops into the ground, overuse or mistreat their soils, or try to pack too much into too little real estate. A third, but by no means last, possibility is that they are simply self-soothing over feelings of guilt about taking the “easy path” to success.

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