One of the most important decisions you'll make in your quest for horticultural success is choosing which blueberry variety or varieties to grow. Fall Creek will help you examine the many factors to consider such as climate, fruit characteristics, market demand and ripening time. As we work together to help you make the best choices, you'll notice that some of the varieties offered by Fall Creek are patent protected.
What does this mean, and what does this indicate about the variety?
In the US, the inventor of a new plant variety can apply for a plant patent. A plant patent holder has the right to decide who can propagate his or her creation. This protection lasts for 20 years from the date of filing the patent application. In countries other than the US, plants are mainly protected by special "plant variety rights," which have similar implications as plant patent protection in the US. We will focus here on the US plant patent system, but keep in mind that these principles generally apply to other countries' protection systems as well.
Fall Creek is dedicated to working closely with blueberry breeders and patent owners on a scientific, educational and professional front. In return for our deep knowledge of blueberries, our commitment to testing new material, our capability to produce the best plants and offer service that supports their investment, and our experience with intellectual property licensing, many Universities and private breeding programs have chosen to grant Fall Creek licenses to propagate and sell their newest, most promising varieties.
Licenses can be exclusive or non-exclusive. Exclusive licenses grant the license holder the exclusive right to propagate, market, sell, and supply a particular variety or varieties. Fall Creek has been awarded a number of exclusive licenses. One important aspect of these licenses is that they are all territory-based. This is because all intellectual property law is governed on either a country or regional level, not internationally. Because each new invention is protected separately in each country, licenses, both exclusive and non-exclusive, are almost always indicated for a particular country or region.
For all varieties that are exclusively licensed to Fall Creek for a particular territory, no other nursery, unless specifically sublicensed, may propagate, sell, or market those varieties on the first sale within that territory. Fall Creek also holds some licenses which are non-exclusive, meaning that a number of nurseries may hold the license to propagate, market and sell the varieties.
What are the advantages of patented varieties?
Patented varieties are the result of decades-long breeding programs that are continually producing better and improved varieties. The bar is constantly being raised for breeding programs to release plants with higher yields, more disease resistance, better fruit quality, better machine harvestability, and more. If chosen carefully, new varieties alone can put growers and marketers at a competitive advantage, leading in the end to happier customers who get more reliable and high-quality fruit.
Why do patented varieties cost more?
Breeding programs take decades to develop the new varieties that keep the blueberry industry moving forward. This takes funding. In order to be able to continue innovating, fees and royalties are often paid to the owner of the variety, which contributes to the funding of future new varieties. Therefore, the slightly higher price of a patented plant is both directly and indirectly fostering the new varieties of tomorrow by giving back to programs in return for the varieties of today.
There are often questions about why publicly funded breeding programs, such as those at universities, should be able to patent varieties, rather than releasing the new cultivars publicly with no royalty charge. The answer is that these programs, though partially publicly-supported, rely on royalty streams as well in order to continue the long term, expensive practice of developing new cultivars. It is no secret that research departments are not always the priority on funding lists, and therefore, we as an industry have a responsibility to find ways to fund these breeding programs ourselves. Patents and their corresponding royalties have come to offer this solution, complete with an incentive system - the more successful a variety is, the more monetary support a breeding program receives - which raises the incentive and the financial ability for a program to release better and better varieties.
What happens if someone propagates without permission?
Patents provide a patent owner with the exclusive right to selectively allow his or her varieties to be propagated, sold and marketed. When someone propagates a patented variety without permission, it is called infringement, which is enforceable under federal law. The result of such enforcement varies, but it can include not only the destruction of the plants, but also significant fines.
Infringement does not just include the illegal propagation and sale of plants. The liability of ALL handlers, including those who harvest, ship, and sell the fruit both wholesale and retail, can be called into question if the plant or plant material (fruit, seeds, genetics, etc.) are used without authorization.
On the positive side, remember this: if you buy your patented varieties legally through a licensed nursery or handler, you are allowed to sell and market the plants and the fruit, within the bounds of the terms of the sale. By buying patented varieties from Fall Creek, our customers enjoy legally-propagated plants and can trust that all plant material received has been produced under explicit license from patent owners.
Fall Creek's Vision
In the increasingly competitive world of blueberries, Fall Creek sees that keeping demand and margins high on all levels of the value chain - from breeders, to nurseries, to growers, to distributors, down to the retailer - is essential for the entire blueberry industry. This is only possible if the product we sell continues to improve. The more that growers and nurseries around the world can set themselves apart from the competition by having truly superior products, the higher the probability that they will all continue riding the wave of blueberry success we have seen in the last years.
Therefore, Fall Creek is committed to remaining the leader in making sure that the best and newest patented blueberry varieties remain available for its customers, so they can enjoy the fruits of the world's newest and most exclusive blueberry varieties.