OSSI and the Four Seed Freedoms

Fedco is proud to be among the 72 seed-company partners of the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), an effort by a consortium of seedsfolks, farmer-breeders, academics and others to keep as many seed varieties as possible in the public domain, unfettered by privatizing restrictions. (See CR Lawn’s essay “In Defense of a Seed Commons” from our 2016 catalog.)

The OSSI Pledge

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OSSI is signing up as many breeders and seed companies as possible to pledge to keep as many varieties in the commons as possible. Fedco carries several OSSI-pledged varieties. We ask each buyer of these OSSI-pledged seeds to uphold this open source agreement:

You have the freedom to use these OSSI-pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this Pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.

The Freedoms

OSSI opposes intellectual property (IP) provisions that restrict what OSSI has identified as the four seed freedoms:

  1. The freedom to save or grow seed for replanting or for any other purpose.
  2. The freedom to share, trade, or sell seed to others.
  3. The freedom to trial and study seed and to share or publish information about it.
  4. The freedom to select or adapt the seed, make crosses with it, or use it to breed new lines and varieties.

Fedco’s Commitment to Transparency
and Seed Saver’s Rights

Some seed varieties have intellection property (IP) restrictions that we must agree to in order to offer the seeds. These restrictions challenge some or all of the 4 seed freedoms. Such restrictions come in several forms:

  • Utility patents or trait patents restrict all four seed freedoms.
    Fedco does not knowingly sell trait- or utility-patented varieties.
  • Licenses that allow us to produce proprietary seed in exchange for royalties, but forbid using it for selection and breeding purposes, restricting the fourth freedom. Fedco currently offers one such variety, 1318 Silver Slicer cucumber, under license from Cornell.
  • The Plant Variety Protection Act (PVP), a form of limited patent protection that restricts the freedom to sell or share with others, but allows seed saving for own use or breeding purposes. We label all the PVPs in their descriptions.

Last year we labeled varieties with contractual agreements or bag-tag agreements that restrict seed freedoms—in doing so we sowed confusion among almost everyone involved. The landscape is more nuanced than we presented last year. Although a few multinationals are aggressively pursuing protection of IP, many other companies are labeling IP in order to guard against having their breeding appropriated by those bigger companies, and have no current intentions of litigating against home gardeners for saving seed. We have stopped labeling these varieties.

For more information, see:
CR Lawn’s article in MOF&G, Spring 2016.
Lisa M. Hamilton’s Linux for Lettuce in VPR, Summer 2014.
Frank Morton’s essays in his Wild Garden Seed catalog.

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