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Crop Science Abstract - Special Submissions—Intellectual Property Issues in Plant Breeding

Intellectual Property and Consolidation in the Seed Industry


This article in CS

  1. Vol. 55 No. 6, p. 2489-2495
    Received: Sept 30, 2014
    Accepted: June 26, 2015
    Published: October 19, 2015

    * Corresponding author(s): howardp@msu.edu
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  1. Philip H. Howard *a
  1. a Dep. of Community Sustainability, Michigan State Univ., 480 Wilson Rd., East Lansing, MI 48824


Intellectual property protections on seeds have increased dramatically in recent decades, from the granting of patent-like protections on certain types of seeds in 1970 to the enforcement of contract provisions for seeds beyond the first sale in 2013. During this same period, the seed industry has experienced rapid consolidation. Although as recently as the 1970s, it was characterized by thousands of small, mostly family-owned business, by 2011, just three agrochemical firms controlled more than half of the global proprietary seed market. These trends have resulted in rapidly increasing prices for commodity seeds and reduced farmers’ ability to save seeds. Given these important negative impacts, why do these trends continue? Expanding intellectual property protections and reducing the number of competitors are strategies that the largest firms understandably employ to increase their power but government support has also been essential to their success. Policy changes have reduced the enforcement of antitrust laws and increased the enforcement of alleged intellectual property infringements. In addition, synergies between stronger intellectual property protections and consolidation have further reinforced the dominance of top firms at the expense of a freely competitive industry. A better understanding of these trends is unlikely to reverse them in the near term but may increase the effectiveness of creating alternatives to a seed oligopoly.

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