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Patenting Plants and Plant Products

  1. Edward R Ergenzinger1,
  2. Jeff Williams2

Published Online: 16 JUL 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003364.pub2



How to Cite

Ergenzinger, E. R. and Williams, J. 2012. Patenting Plants and Plant Products. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA

  2. 2

    The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 16 JUL 2012


The United States approach to protect newly developed plant varieties has fed a booming agribusiness industry, but the United States differs from many other parts of the world in terms of its views on patenting plants and public attitudes regarding genetically modified foods. This article reviews the relevant forms of intellectual property protection available to plant breeders in the United States, which includes the Plant Protection Act, the Plant Variety Protection Act, and utility patents under the Patent Act. These forms of protection are compared with the standard conventions available in Europe. Two brief discussions follow. First, the role of public attitudes in acceptance of genetically modified crops is reviewed. This is followed by a brief overview of the ethical and legal context related to bioprospecting.

Key Concepts:

  • The United States plant breeders have three forms of intellectual property protection available for use: PVPA, PPA and utility patents.

  • The United States and European patent systems have been aligned to allow for more uniform international enforcement of patents.

  • Bioprospecting has the potential to uncover powerful new discoveries, but ownership rules must be interpreted for both equity and efficiency concerns.

  • The United States and European consumers generally have differing opinions of the safety of genetically engineered crops.


  • patent;
  • intellectual property;
  • genetically modified food;
  • genetic engineering;
  • patent cooperation treaty;
  • bioprospecting;
  • international convention for the protection of new varieties of plants;
  • plant variety protection act;
  • plant patent act