In the United States, new plant varieties can be protected through three types of intellectual property (IP): plant patents, utility patents, and plant variety protection. Additionally, plant breeders can also protect information of value as trade secrets.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues plant patents for new and distinct asexually-reproduced plants, and utility patents for eligible patent-related inventions including genes, traits, methods, and plant parts. Both plant patents and utility patents have a term of 20 years from the filing date of the application. For more information about plant patents, see the USPTO’s Plant patent webpage; for more information about utility patents, see the USPTO’s Utility Patent Application Filing Guide.
The Plant Variety Protection Office (PVPO) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides intellectual property protection in the form of plant variety protection certificates to breeders of new varieties of seeds, tubers, and asexually propagated plants. The certificates protect varieties for 20 years (25 years for vines and trees). The USPTO works closely with the PVPO and other U.S. government agencies to lead coordinated IP policy development. See the USDA’s Plant Variety Protection webpage for more information about plant variety protection certificates.
International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants
The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) is an intergovernmental organization with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. UPOV’s objective is to provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection, with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society. The USPTO leads the U.S. government at meetings of UPOV and provides educational programs for UPOV members. For more information on UPOV see the USPTO's UPOV webpage or the UPOV website.
International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
In September 2016, the U.S. Senate ratified the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). The treaty creates an access and benefit sharing system for certain crops so that members may freely share plant seeds subject to the treaty’s standard material transfer agreement (SMTA). The United States deposited its instrument of ratification in December 2016 and became a member of the ITPGRFA in March 2017. The USPTO regularly contributes to the formulation of U.S. policy positions on farmers’ rights and IP matters in connection with the SMTA under the ITPGRFA. Additionally, the USPTO participates in an ad hoc experts group relating to farmers’ rights convened under the ITPGRFA.