When Techdirt has written about seeds in
the past, it tended to be in the context of
patents , and how Big Agribusiness is
trying to use multiple layers of intellectual
monopolies to prevent patented seeds
from entering the public domain. By
contrast, seeds that are already in the
public domain — that is, owned by no one
and thus everyone — ought to be
unproblematic. But an interesting story in
Intellectual Property Watch indicates
that’s not the case in France:
the French Senate is due to
consider a bill on biodiversity for
the third time. That bill, which
could be modifying several
legislations, might allow for the
sharing and selling by non-
governmental organisations of
seeds in the public domain to non-
commercial buyers, which is so far
not permitted under the current
French legislation, according to
The fact that non-governmental
organisations are currently not allowed to
sell public domain seeds to non-
commercial buyers seems curious, to say
the least. The issue seems to be about
governmental control, since the new law:
would allow NGOs already sharing
and selling seeds to individual
gardeners, which are not on the
French National official seeds
catalogue, to legalise their
activities, and escape prosecution,
according to a press release [pdf]
(in French) from Kokopelli, one of
those associations.
That’s a reminder of how controlling
seeds was a key government power back
in the days when agriculture represented
a far greater share of economic activity
than it does now. Such control may have
been justified back then in terms of
ensuring that “official” seeds were the
varieties they claimed to be, and of high
quality. But it’s surely time for
restrictions on selling public domain
seeds to be relaxed not just in France but
everywhere they exist, to promote
biodiversity and to offer a counterbalance
to the increased control exercised by
companies using patents.