Patents on Plants

Patents are considered bothersome in software. What a surprise that a parallel fight is fought in biological gardening scenes! This gave me an absurd idea, which may actually work well in practice.
| posted on Fri, 29 Dec 2006, 11:44 | weblog | rss | spin-off | comments |

I wrote about the value of biodiversity before, in the ecology corner of my blog. I've also written about the dangers of software patents. What a surprise that these domains are linked!

In software, you want to write software and remain free to share it. To do so, a number of license forms, commonly known as open source licenses, have been developed. Unlike a commercial license, these open source licenses actually protect your freedom to use, develop and distribute software. Depending on the style of license, commercial development based on open software may be resold at a profit (as with BSD) or it must then be made available without profit (as with GPL).

The ecological problem is that a few multinational corporations are confiscating the seed market; they sell the same seed throughout the world and thereby ensure that any problems with a crop automatically become large-scale problems. They also prohibit derived forms from plants that work well in a local environmen. But if a farmer is not allowed adapt seed to local conditions then he is not able to help avoid the occurrence of crop problems on a large scale. (It is being rumoured that those seed companies also win from sale of detergents, which can explain this motivation to some degree.)

Perhaps it is an idea to have an 'open plant license' which would be inspired on open source licenses.

The best way to fight legally-enforced issues like contracts is usually to use the same, legal tools. These licenses have worked well for software, as we can all see by the acceptance of open source software by large companies. They use it as a common code base which they extend with the things they need for some commercial endeavour. Interestingly, this leads to code being shared between companies that would normally not dream about working togeting. Open source, and especially the force applied by the licenses, makes these companies bond nevertheless.

The idea of plants and seeds under a license may be absurd, but it is no more absurd than patenting them. And since it is a relatively light-weight construct to add remarks like These seeds are available under the terms of the Open Seed License it might make a lot of sense. Plus, it makes the ideals of biodiversity very visible.

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