So you want to bring a new plant to market? Part 1

Plant breeders interested in bringing novel new plant varieties to the market will need to go through many steps.

New cultivars debuted at California Spring Trials 2013. Photo credit: Heidi Wollaeger, MSU Extension
New cultivars debuted at California Spring Trials 2013. Photo credit: Heidi Wollaeger, MSU Extension

Have you developed a new plant that you would like to bring to market? In order to share your novel plant with the world, there are many steps and costs to consider. From protecting your intellectual property to finding the right distribution channels, start the process by gathering information.

First, know that your plant is ready to go to market. Plant breeders should know everything there is to know about their new plant cultivar: its habit, form, disease susceptibility, production time, water requirements, bloom cycle and need for vernalization. In other words, you should be able to tell any grower how they could produce your plant and how it fairs when grown in a variety of environmental conditions – especially outside in a garden.

With respect to breeding, is the plant stable or will it revert or mutate within a few generations? If it is not stable, the plant will not be able to be propagated on a massive scale and ensure uniformity. Also, take a look at the comparable plants already in the marketplace and be able to articulate your plant’s superior traits. Prevent announcing your new plant variety before it is widely available to growers and propagators.

Second, keep your novel new plant a secret. One of the biggest mistakes a plant breeder can make is posting photos of the new plant on social media or elsewhere on the Internet, especially with a name. Once it has been publicized, it can hurt your ability to apply for a plant patent or protect your intellectual property in other ways. Similarly, do not distribute propagules or seed from your plant, enter it into a show or trial, or document it with a local plant society. Doing so can be regarded as an “offer for sale” of your product, which may also prevent you from protecting your plant and receiving royalties.

As you may be detecting, so much of the process of bringing a new plant to market revolves around protecting your intellectual property. Patents, trademarks, royalties: what does it all mean? Protecting your product (i.e., your novel plant variety) will ensure that you get compensated for your research and development, which likely has a pretty hefty price tag.

If you are new to this process, consider seeking a more experienced partner. A partner can help you navigate this process and may even cover the cost of the patent, but make sure to check out a potential partner’s track record first. You will want to ask them about their distribution channels, their marketing history, and their ability to trial your plant and enforce patents. Be sure to sign a trailing license agreement with your partner and never send them propagules of your plant until you have a signed legal agreement.

If you do not want to partner with anyone, consider hiring a plant patent agent who knows the ins-and-outs of applying for plant or utility patents, licensing your plant, and applying for trademarks. Patent lawyers will also be able to help you, but they are considerably more expensive and often do not specialize in plant patents. Do not hire a family lawyer who does not work in this sector frequently as they may be likely to miss something, which may impact your bottom line.

For more information on patents, licensing, trademarks, and royalties, check out “So you want to bring a new plant to market? Part 2” from Michigan State University Extension.

Thank you to Tim Wood, Spring Meadow Nursery, for the content and inspiration for this article, and for his review.

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