Plant Variety Rights are an internationally recognised form of intellectual property used to protect unique plant varieties. The application of PVR is similar in principle to the intellectual property protection offered via copyright on books and music and to patents on a wide range of innovative products including biological material.
The PVR system delivers protection and stimulates further innovation in plant breeding. By ensuring varieties awarded PVR are freely available to others for use in future breeding programmes. This access is known as the ‘breeder’s exemption’, and this process has significantly underpinned the major advances seen in plant breeding over the past 40 years.
The PVR system allows plant breeders to collect royalties on the production and sale of seed of their protected varieties.
Testing for PVR
To qualify for Plant Variety Rights, a new variety must undergo official tests to determine whether it is distinct, uniform and stable (DUS). For most crop species, these independent tests take two years.
A variety must be clearly distinguishable from any other existing variety by one or more characteristics.
Individual plants of the same variety must be sufficiently uniform in a range of key characteristics.
A plant variety is considered to be stable if it reproduces true to type from one generation to the next.
For each new variety, these DUS tests are undertaken and the results considered by independent experts to determine whether all the necessary requirements for Plant Variety Rights have been met.
Plant Variety Rights are granted for a period of 25 years for all species except trees, vines and potatoes, which have a period of 30 years.
In the UK, Plant Variety Rights are administered by the Plant Variety Rights Office (PVRO) at the Food and Environment Research Agency, part of Defra.
A separate, EU-wide system of European Plant Variety Rights is administered by the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO). Most varieties commonly grown in the UK are now protected by Community PVR.
Trademark and patents
Some plant varieties may have trademark or patent protection in addition to plant variety rights. Where you see the registered trademark designation ® against a variety name, the variety owner has rights over the use of the name of the variety or any logo or other design associated with it. In Europe, a plant variety may not be patented but a trait or a novel breeding technique may be and where the breeder has been granted such a patent, use of the variety or technique is subject to the requirements of patent law as well as plant variety rights. The European Seed Association is developing a database of patents in plant varieties called PINTO which can be accessed here.
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