The past thirty years have seen a massive patent grab to control agricultural seeds and the crops that are grown, not just in the US but around the world. In the name of progress and greater yields, seed companies introduced proprietary GMO and hybrid seeds, slowly squeezing out seeds that are more common and shareable. This is exactly what Microsoft did in software, using Windows to marginalize competing software systems, and this is what bottling companies have done to water, trying to supplant tap water with heavily marketed branded water.
Some folks at the University of Wisconsin have launched a new effort to fight this trend in the seed market through what they call the Open Source Seed Initiative. The project last week released 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains, all of them licensed under the equivalent of software’s General Public License (GPL), which is what has allowed GNU/Linux to remain in the commons.
The license, known as the Open Source Seed Pledge, lets anyone use the open source seeds for whatever purpose they want – provided that any subsequent seeds produced are also made available on the same basis. The idea is to bypass the built-in bias of proprietary control in the patent system, and assure that the new seeds will be available for anyone to grow, breed and share in perpetuity, without the fear of someone imposing intellectual property restrictions on later uses of the seeds.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison news office quoted horticulture professor and plant breeder Irwin Goldman, one of the authors of the pledge, as saying: “These vegetables are part of our common cultural heritage, and our goal is to make sure these seeds remain in the public domain for people to use in the future.” Last week Goldman released two carrot varieties he developed, named Sovereign and Oranje, at a public ceremony outside of the university’s microbial sciences building.