At the moment, the patent for the glyphosate tolerance trait in soybeans, better known as Roundup Ready© One (RR1) was issued by the US Patent Office; the clock began ticking on its expiration.
In late 2014 this patent expires, raising many questions as to what this will mean for plant breeders, seed companies, farmers, grain handlers, exporters, importers, and processors. Patents for other traits will follow suit in the years to come. Just as this patent ushered in a new era, the way its expiration is handled will certainly set the precedents for dealing with those yet to come.
It has been assumed by some that once the RR1 patent expires that farmers will automatically be able to purchase their seed for 2015 planting and be able to save seed for replanting on their own farms in 2016. This is not necessarily going to be the case.
Certain varieties, which may be marketed under various brand names by different seed companies, may have other valid enforceable patents associated with them. If so, the seed company could still be able to include “no replant” restrictions in purchase agreements.
If a farmer does intend to save seed for replanting, it is important to make sure the variety is under no such restriction because of other patents. Ask the seed company specifically about the brand/variety being considered. It may also be possible that seed companies or universities that currently are not licensed to use RR1 in their breeding programs may incorporate the trait into new varieties in the future.
When contemplating saving seed, a farmer should also factor the costs and logistics of having the harvested grain cleaned and conditioned to be used as seed, and the ability to provide suitable storage conditions to maintain viability.
Furthermore, it is normal for gradual deterioration of the varietal purity to diminish with multiple cycles of saving and replanting due to pollen contamination, physical contamination, local environment selection pressure or a combination. All of the considerations that apply to RR1 soybeans will apply to other patented traits when the time comes.
Another consideration is the ability to sell the harvest of generic RR1 soybeans into grain channels destined for export. While under patent protection, it is the responsibility of the patent holder to maintain regulatory support necessary for the movement of seed and grain containing the patented trait so that it can be shipped to countries around the world.
This involves, among other things, timely renewal of regulatory approvals. Monsanto has indicated that they intend to maintain this support for RR1 soybeans through at least 2021. After that, Monsanto may continue to maintain this level of stewardship of the RR1 or it may pass to other entities who continue to use it.
In preparation for this, as well as the eventual expiration of other trait patents, a framework to facilitate the orderly transition of stewardship of these traits has been established by a consortium of genetic providers, seed companies, trade associations, and other stakeholders, primarily led by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and American Seed Trade Association (ASTA).
The framework is referred to as The Accord. The Accord consists of two main parts: The Generic Event Marketability and Access Agreement (GEMAA) and the Data Use and Compensation Agreement (DUCA).
The GEMAA guides the process for making off-patent genetic traits available to other users, with responsibilities for the original patent holder as well as those entities that are to assume all or part of the stewardship responsibilities.
The DUCA guides the negotiation of data sharing and compensation of parties to a transfer of responsibility.
Detailed information about The Accord can be found at http://www.agaccord.org.