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Why didn’t an equivalent to the US Plant Patent Act of 1930 emerge in Britain? – Berris Charnley

This is an old paper that I gave at a workshop last year. I have been looking to work it up for publication and now I have finally got some time. It has been sitting at the bottom of a draw for a while, so I thought I should air it out. Any thoughts or comments welcomed.

In 1906 the Royal Horticultural Society hosted the Third International Conference on Hybridisation and Cross Breeding. The meeting is remembered now as a triumph of the Mendelian school, whose leader, William Bateson, used the occasion to put into public circulation his new term for the science, “genetics.” Less widely remembered is that the meeting also saw a session bringing together plant breeders to discuss another, related, matter: whether they could use the law to protect their intellectual property in the novel varieties that, they reckoned, would surely arise ever more abundantly thanks to the work of the Mendelians. So plant intellectual property was an explicit point of discussion among plant breeders in Britain from the early years of the twentieth century. And yet over the succeeding decades there would never emerge anything comparable to the US Plant Patent Act of 1930. Why not? This paper will offer a preliminary answer, emphasizing the extent to which different paths of agricultural development, and experiences of the Great War, shaped the political and moral contexts of plant breeding in each country.

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