Congress Passes Smith's Plant Patent Legislation

Oct 16, 1998

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the final days of the 105th Congress, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Bob Smith (R-OR) announced that the House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously passed the Plant Patent Amendments Act of 1997, a bill to protect patent owners against the unauthorized sale of plant parts taken from illegally reproduced plants.

"This bill addresses an issue that has long needed clarification," Smith said. "Agricultural producers cannot afford to wait another year for security against bootlegged plant parts. It is time to clarify the Plant Patent Act and protect U.S. businesses who develop and produce the plants that we all use and enjoy."

H.R. 1197 is a simple technical clarification to a loophole in the Plant Patent Act of 1930. When Congress drafted the Plant Patent Act of 1930, it could not anticipate the technological advances that science, and the agricultural industry, would make in the growing of plants. Plant breeders and growers in the U.S. are being denied the protection intended by Congress when it enacted the Plant Patent Act of 1930 because of an ambiguity in the law.

Currently, foreign growers can come to the U.S., acquire a plant, grow the plant, and then sell its fruits or flowers in U.S. markets without paying any royalty. This practice undercuts U.S. businesses that own the patents and penalizes growers who honor the U.S. patent. U.S. plant breeders lose a substantial amount of income annually from uncollected royalty payments due to this practice. H.R. 1197 clarifies this ambiguity by specifically including the coverage of plant parts in the Plant Patent Act of 1930.

"U.S. growers are incurring substantial losses from unauthorized propagation of their plant inventions in foreign countries, and the export to the U.S. of parts like flowers and fruit harvested from these bootlegged plants," Smith said. "I'm glad Congress passed this common-sense legislation, and I'm looking forward to the President signing it into law."

"Oregon plant growers should receive the benefits of their patents whenever their plants are sold elsewhere," said Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR). "This legislation closes a loophole and protects the patent rights of Oregon growers from those who have been able to sidestep patent fees."

The loss of royalty income, and U.S. market share, adversely affects U.S. domestic research and breeding. This, in turn, inhibits investment in the plant research and development programs which are the foundation of a strong horticultural industry. Additionally, those who sell plant parts from unauthorized plants, and do not pay royalties for varieties illegally grown, enjoy an unfair competitive advantage over both producers who pay royalties and the patent holder who also markets the product.

Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District -- which includes most of eastern, southern and central Oregon -- in the U.S. House of Representatives.