Understanding licensing for PBR varieties

What is PBR?

According to WikipediaPlant breeders’ rights (PBR), also known as plant variety rights (PVR), are rights granted to the breeder of a new variety of plant that gives the breeder exclusive control over the propagating material (including seed, cuttings, divisions, tissue culture) and harvested material (cut flowers, fruit, foliage) of a new variety for a number of years.

PBR is a complex process, but the important take away is that any material over which PBR has been granted is fully protected by the laws of Australia and severe penalties can be applied to anyone who infringes that legal protection.

What are the criteria for a plant to be eligible for PBR?

A variety must be new, distinct, uniform and stable

NEW – it has not been commercialised for more than one year in the country of protection

DISTINCT – it differs from all other known varieties by one or more important botanical characteristics, such as height, maturity, color, etc.

UNIFORM – the plant characteristics are consistent from plant to plant within the variety

STABLE – the plant characteristics are genetically fixed and therefore remain the same from generation to generation, or after a cycle of reproduction in the case of hybrid varieties

How does someone apply for PBR to protect a new variety?

The average time for Plant breeder’s rights registration is two and a half years. You will need to submit Applications part 1 and part 2 and hire a qualified person (QP) to assist with a growing trial. There are fees at various stages of the process.

Where can you find more information?

The Australian Government has an extensive website that gives you all of the information you need to understand the PBR of varieties within your industry.

Visit Australian Government IP Australia Website

Why is there a commercialisation partner?

Once any new varieties developed by the levy-funded Australian Strawberry Breeding Program (ASBP) have been fully assessed, the next task for Hort Innovation is to identify an experienced commercialisation partner. Hort Innovation are responsible for ensuring that levy funds are invested by a competitive tender system.  A set of tender requests were issued to the open market, and interested businesses were asked to submit a proposal against a detailed set of requirements laid out in the tender document called a Request for Proposal (RFP).

The process of commercialising a new variety of plants requires a very detailed understanding of the legislative framework protecting intellectual property in Australia, the ability to tightly manage access to the new plant material through licensed plant propagators, and the processes in place to manage the financial aspects of the arrangement.

Why was Australasian Plant Genetics selected in the tender process?

The organisation behind Australasian Plant Genetics is the Queensland Strawberry Growers’ Association (QSGA).  New strawberry varieties have been bred in Australia for many years and QSGA now has years of experience managing the commercial arrangements behind some of the most widely grown strawberry varieties currently in Australia.  QSGA responded to the open tender using the knowledge and expertise built in the strawberry industry and was chosen by a competitive evaluation as the commercialisation partner for the new varieties.

Why are royalties important?

Breeding programs are expensive and take time. Royalties make this process financially possible by providing an income stream for what would otherwise be an expenses-only undertaking. A royalty is a payment to the Intellectual Property (IP) holders of a variety. The IP holders can take a range of measures to protect their variety such as gaining PBR (a legislated framework with penalties for non-compliance), variety patenting and private agreements. The royalty can be charged in many ways, but in the strawberry industry, it is typically a one-off per runner or plug plant royalty at the time of plant purchase. Usually, it is collected by the propagator, and purchasers sign a non-propagation document before plant materials are delivered.