Sorry to be slow to reply. Been thinking about this – we had a conversation about this yesterday at our staff meeting.
First of all – DISCLAIMER – I am not an attorney and am not giving legal advice ……..
There is a legal framework to protect seeds and tubers – the Plant Variety Protection Act. The variety has to be registered and protection approved by the Plant Variety Protection Office of USDA.
If the variety is not registered, generally seeds and tubers can be propagated and sold - by anyone to anyone
A farmer can always save his own seed, even if it is protected, and plant it again on their farm.
A name connected to a variety may be able to be trademarked or otherwise legally protected from use by non-authorized persons.
Separate from the legal issue, there is doing what is fair and equitable. Trading heirloom seeds between farmers has been in existence since the first wheat and lentil plants were cultivated!
There are also cultural and social factors, and Native American tribes are adamant about protecting their culture and rightfully sensitive to exploitation.
I support maintaining the genetic quality of heirloom varieties and development of new public varieties through traditional crossing and selection methods.
See below for more!
Hiding heirloom seed will not protect it from corporate criminals; get reproducible heirloom seeds into the hands of farmers who can propagate it correctly
Mexico/Oaxaca has cultural treasure laws that would disallow a patent on a purely indigenous Oaxacan strain in America. Encourage this.
--Complicated issue – see above, but should not be used for multi-national pharmaceutical/seed companies to remove heirloom varieties from general distribution
Don't believe in patenting life; it is something to put a life work and fight against, to violate any heirloom seed patenting laws as necessary
--amen – heirloom and public varieties are the way to go
Corporations are focusing on patenting hybrid and gmo seeds, not currently on heirloom
--Yes – generally varieties that are ideal for ripening, harvesting, and processing on a massive scale – or well suited to long travels in an imaginary ripened condition