Chinese Seed Law Revisions Spark Innovation

Posted on 2018-07-31
Photo: P. Ananth Kannappan

The American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and China National Seed Association (CNSA) signed a memorandum of understanding in 2012 and renewed their partnership in 2015. Through this partnership the two associations have cohosted over a dozen activities aimed at enabling the Chinese business environment by modernizing the seed industry, with the goal of giving Chinese farmers access to higher quality seeds. This effort has accelerated since the Chinese government has set aggressive food security goals. To achieve these goals the Chinese agriculture sector must continue to modernize and mechanize, both of which will require better inputs, including seeds.

Strong intellectual property rights protections are critical for seed companies, which invest substantial time and resources into developing new and improved varieties. When seed is sold, the company gives away the blueprints to make copies of the seed. Therefore, without intellectual property protection, companies are not able to recoup their initial investment and will stay out of these markets. Working with CNSA, ASTA was able to explain how access to high quality seed benefits individual farmers and increases food security to China as a whole. That strong intellectual property protection is directly linked to the access to high quality seeds. Many of CNSA’s members are researching new varieties of rice and vegetables. These researchers have echoed the importance of intellectual property to their government.

In 2014, ASTA arranged meetings for a senior delegation from the Seed Management Bureau within the Ministry of Agriculture to visit the United States. This trip occurred while the Ministry of Agriculture was revising and modernizing its seed law. The group met with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and U.S. Plant Variety Protection Office in addition to public and private sector plant breeders. ASTA also took intellectual property rights experts to China, provided information about legal systems in the U.S. and specific seed court cases, and commented on draft seed laws during the revision process.

In 2016, the Chinese government enacted its new seed law with provisions and language that strengthen intellectual property protection and punishment in China. A major point of progress is that the new seed law includes a chapter on plant variety protection. Previously, foreign seed companies faced many challenges registering varieties or obtaining plant variety protection in China. In 2013, before the new seed law was passed, there were 1,113 plant variety protection applications filed. In 2014, after the new seed law, the number of applications increased by 37 percent to 1,530. In 2016, the number of applications reached 2,092. Both public and private researchers are bringing new varieties to the Chinese market. Improved varieties will increase yield, sustainability and Chinese food security.