Background Information on Seed Commons

Background Information on Seed Commons


Open Source Licenses for Seeds

Based on the Open Source development in the software sector, OpenSourceSeeds has developed an Open Source license for the seed sector. The goal of this license is to use seeds as freely as possible. Since 2012 a working group of Agrecol is looking for a possibility to apply the Open Source principle to the seeds of agricultural crops. After the license is published in June 2016, it will be tested this year on the first pioneer varieties – the outdoor tomato Sunviva and the Convento C spring wheat.

The licence consists of a so-called material transfer agreement. This allows the licensee to use, propagate, pass on and process the seeds for breeding purposes without restriction. At the same time, the licensee undertakes to refrain from any form of privatisation or collection (e.g. application for plant variety rights) and to grant future users of the seeds the same rights that he or she has enjoyed. This copyleft principle is therefore viral, since not only the licensed seed but also all varieties developed from this seed in the future are covered by the license.

License developer Dr. Johannes Kotschi and his colleagues see the necessity for a new legal form in the seed sector due to the large increase in patents and the formation of oligopolies in the seed market. This increasingly prevents breeding outside the big companies and leads to great losses in genetic diversity. However, diversity in the seed sector is urgently needed if we are to adapt to climate change under the most diverse site conditions worldwide.

As the new license makes seed a public good again, the breeding of varieties within this parallel market will again become a task for society as a whole. To finance it, the state, but also the players along the entire value chain, would therefore have to be more closely involved. How the financing of a community-based seed system can be structured is being investigated in the research project Right Seeds. The findings of the practice partners are directly incorporated here and are further developed in focus groups and workshops.

Similar to OpenSourceSeeds, the American Open Source Seeds Initiative has been testing a ‘pledge’ – a voluntary declaration of commitment – for several years to protect varieties from privatisation. In other areas of animal and plant breeding, open source licenses are currently being tested as well. The OpenSourceBees initiative of the World Beekeepers’ Association Apimondia, for example, is working to ensure that the honey bee remains a public good and in the hands of the global beekeeping community.

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