Role of UPOV
New Zealand (NZ) celebrates 40 years of membership with International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) on 8 November this year. New Zealand has been a member of UPOV since 1981, one of 74 member states using a common and effective system of plant variety protection. Membership of UPOV entitles NZ breeders to apply for plant variety rights (PVRs) in other member states under the same provisions as national plant breeders of those states. This gives NZ breeders access to larger markets, and in turn encourages investment and development in national plant breeding. A grant gives you the exclusive right to produce for sale and to sell propagating material of the variety.
UPOV Application Process Developments
UPOV in association with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), is actively engaged in trying to simplify the application process for plant variety protection matters worldwide, taking advantage of the ease with which electronic media now enables data transfer and this will in time impact on PVR users as well. The introduction of the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) case management system is compatible with UPOV/WIPO aims making PVR information readily accessible to breeders and owners.
How PVR operates in New Zealand
In New Zealand, PVRs are presently available for varieties of any kind of plant excluding algae or bacteria. PVR gives a breeder the exclusive right to either produce for sale, or sell propagating material of, that plant, or licence others to do the same. Rights holders commonly collect royalties from the commercialisation of their protected varieties, with the PVR applying for a term of 20 years in the case of non-woody plants, or 23 years in the case of woody plants.
In New Zealand, all plants must undergo a period of testing and evaluation before they are granted PVR. This can be in a centralised trial - the general practice for potatoes, grasses, roses, apples and some ornamentals - or on the applicant’s own property. The trials seek to establish that the plant is indeed morphologically or physiologically distinct, uniform and stable.
Imported potato varieties
Kiwis love all forms of potatoes and to satisfy this demand, growers produce many imported varieties. All potatoes are tested in an annual central trial at Lincoln. There is an advertised closing date for applications of 1 August each year, the trial is planted in October then harvested the following autumn with a decision made and notified during the winter.
Chris Barnaby is Assistant Commissioner for Plant Variety Rights, based in Christchurch says, “Of course if it is imported material, you can make an application before you have plant material, including potato tubers, in NZ. We set out a suitable timeframe with respect to quarantine requirements and so on. We have to be realistic about that because quarantine is entirely out of our control and subject to other requirements.” This procedure is similar for all plant varieties.
New Zealand breeders in the international market
New Zealand breeders targeting the international market are still seeking PVR for new native selections, Cordyline or Cabbage Trees among them, but applications for Hebe varieties have fallen off in this country. Their breeding seems to be more active in Europe now than here.
As per Chris, “My impression is that most of the traditional connections our local industry have are with northern Europe and that climate is not entirely suitable for many New Zealand natives. I think they’re being used very much as pot or tub crops, and because of that there are limits as to appeal. The potential is perhaps not quite what was thought.”
Our natives are perhaps better suited to garden planting and not the pot culture many Northern European gardeners seem to favour. Many overseas ornamental plant breeders focus on shorter term colourful flowering plants for seasonal containers and indoors.
However, there have been great successes through varieties of New Zealand natives protected overseas and requests for testing assistance from overseas authorities.
PVR Applications from other countries
In the recent years, the proportion of PVR applications for varieties from other countries has increased with fruit and agricultural crops steady and ornamentals more subject to the ups and downs of fashion trends. Chris says that there was “a euphoria of ornamental breeding” 10-15 years ago, when overseas breeders in particular released multiple varieties of some species on the market. As time progressed some perhaps came to realise that the gardening public didn’t have quite the appetite for these plants that they thought they might.
“And of course, with the development of increasingly advanced tissue culture propagation technology which enables production of big quantities of an increasing range of plants. All the possibilities perhaps crated an initial euphoria and has now settled back somewhat to a more pragmatic approach, or a different perspective.”
As for the origin of applications, Chris estimates there is overall around a 60:40 split between foreign and national breeders, depending very much on the plant species.
“For example, petunias would be about 100 per cent foreign breeders, whereas something like ryegrass or pasture plants would be 80 per cent New Zealand breeders. Fruit crops are roughly 50:50. We certainly in this country have strength in pasture breeding, fruit crops and some ornamental species.”
Berry fruit has been an area of growth in recent years, with one New Zealand breeder certainly active and a lot of material coming in from North America, “which of course is where blueberries come from, so I guess it’s not surprising that they have the germplasm and the breeding base there,” Chris says.
Looking at trends from the NZ PVR Office point of view, applications overall are up with increases in ornamentals and steady across fruit, vegetables and agriculture. The number of grant decisions has sat around 85 per year for the last several years, indicating the Office of five people is functioning consistently well.