Intellectual property is a tool to ensure innovation takes place. The global and South African Seed Industry can only assure improved plant varieties that can contribute to food security and climate and poverty alleviation. Improved varieties bring economic, environmental and health benefits. Plant breeding is a science that changes the traits of plants to produce more desirable characteristics.

To encourage plant breeding, plant breeders must be assured of a return in investment. In South Africa, biological material can’t be patented but a Plant Breeders Right can be applied for through the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries’ for a new variety developed by a Plant Breeder. Through the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), the seed industry has been able to provide agriculture with a diverse choice of higher-yielding, more disease-resistant, and hardier seeds.

In South Africa, plant breeders’ rights are recognised and protected under the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act 1976 (Act no. 15). The PBR Act of 1976 provides the following:

  • The requirements for the grant;
  • Scope of protection of plant breeders’ rights;
  • The grant of licenses;
  • The grant of compulsory licenses
  • Other matters, for example, changes to:
    • Denominations, agents, holders, withdrawals, surrenders, etc.

The Plant Breeders’ Rights Bill of January 2015 have been accepted and will take full effect after the regulation have been written.

The implementation of plant breeders’ rights system in South Africa has been a major stimulus for the plant breeding industry. Not only does it provide for financial remuneration, but it also gives local plant breeders and producers access to high quality new varieties produced globally. Plant breeders of varieties won’t supply propagating material to individuals, if such material cannot be protected by plant breeders’ rights. It is of the utmost importance for the economy to obtain new and improved plant varieties as there is a constant demand for better quality, higher yields, better processing properties, increased disease and pest and drought resistance.

Plant breeders’ rights (PBR) are rights granted to the breeder of a new variety of plant that give the breeder exclusive control over the propagating material (including seed, cuttings, divisions, tissue culture) and harvested material (cut flowers, fruit, foliage) of a new variety for a number of years.

With these rights, the breeder can choose to become the exclusive marketer of the variety, or to license the variety to others. In order to qualify for these exclusive rights, a variety must be new, distinct, uniform and stable. The breeder must also give the variety an acceptable “denomination”, which becomes its generic name and must be used by anyone who markets the variety.

South Africa is also a signatory to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 1976 which gives guidelines on the protection of plant breeders’ rights.

International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV)

In 1957, in France negotiations took place concerned with the protection of new varieties, which led to the creation of the Union Internationale pour la Protection des Obtentions Végétales (UPOV) and adoption of the first text of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV Convention) in 1961. The mission of UPOV is to provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection, with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society.

The UPOV Convention provides the basis for members to encourage plant breeding by granting breeders of new plant varieties an intellectual property right: the breeder’s right.

SANSOR supports South Africa to accede UPOV 1991, as well as supporting the Plant Breeders’ Rights Bill.

Download SANSOR’s position on Conditioning for the Purpose of Propagation – here
Download SANSOR’s pocket handbook on Intellectual Property – here
Download SANSOR’s full position paper in terms of UPOV – here.