U.S.: open source seed program keeps varieties in public domain
The ownership agreement, or rather non-ownership agreement, will keep the seeds at liberty for all people to grow, breed and share.
The idea is to protect certain seeds from the restrictions of patents and licensing that may prevent small breeders and the general public from accessing valuable germplasm, explained UW-Madison horticulture professor and plant breeder Irwin Goldman.
"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," said Goldman, who helped write the pledge that appears on all OSSI seed packets.
In honor of event, Goldman released a sampling of his own developments - two carrot varieties named Sovereign and Oranje.
He described the OSSI pledge as concise, almost like a haiku.
"It basically says these seeds are free to use in any way you want. They can't be legally protected. Enjoy them," Goldman said.
Those who open and use the seed packets make a commitment to maintaining them, and any derivative developed from them, in the public domain.
Since the pledge extends to possible derivatives, UW-Madison professor Jack Kloppenburg said the initiative expands the potential pool of germplasm open for free use.
"Already, many public breeders don't have the freedom to operate. They can't do what they want to do as often as they would like," Kloppenburg said.
"[OSSI] creates a parallel system, a new space where breeders and farmers can share seeds. ... And, because it applies to derivatives, it makes for an expanding pool of germplasm that any plant breeder can freely use."
For certain varieties, Goldman said he will continue with traditional licensing through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
A carrot with unique disease resistance, may be more appropriate for use in a larger breeding program, explained Goldman.
Kloppenburg described OSSI as the birth of a movement.
"Open source means sharing, and shared seed can be the foundation of a more sustainable and more just food system," Kloppenburg said.
Photo: Jack Kloppenburg (left), Irwin Goldman and Claire Luby, graduate student in the UW’s Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program, fill envelopes with non-patented seeds, Photo: Bryce Richter