Alfred Reed Bishop and Doris William Butler

The picture above is the very tap root of Bishop's Homegrown/Face Of The Earth Seed. My grandparents shortly after moving to Pekin Indiana from Greensburg KY in 1947 where they purchased the farm that is now Bishop's Homegrown. This picture was taken in Pekin in front of the old co-op next to the old railroad depot, neither of which exist today.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

A patent on genotypic traits, a step beyond the normal PVP process and a Bio-Piracy grab!

Another damn agricultural rant from Alan Reed Bishop/Hip-Gnosis Seed Development/Homegrown Goodness/Bishop's Homegrown

Thanks to Agrarian Grrl's Journal, I've got a few new things to write about. I'd like to first thank Agrarian Grrl for all the hard work that she does on her wonderful blog!

Anyhow, according to this Link at Siegers seed company in Holland, Michigan have applied for a patent on "warty" pumpkins. ETC released this press piece on the situation which was sent with photographic proof of the prior existence of "warty" pumpkins to the USPTO:

Message to USPTO: Squash the Patent on Bumpy Pumpkins; there's plenty of prior (w)art

On December 4, 2008, while most folks in the United States were eating the last slices of pumpkin pie left over from Thanksgiving dinner, the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) published patent application US20080301830A1 on a Warted pumpkin, “invented” by the Director of Sales & Marketing at Siegers Seed Company in Holland, Michigan, USA. The patent application claims a “warted pumpkin...wherein the outer shell includes at least one wart associated with the outer shell of the body.”

“The claims made by these Michigan 'wart hogs' are outrageous,” says Pat Mooney of ETC Group. “Characteristics vary more for pumpkins than for just about any other plant on earth. Some pumpkins have smooth surfaces; some are barely bumpy and some are way warty. No doubt that's been the case since North American indigenous peoples domesticated them thousands of years ago. Evidence of warty pumpkins goes as far back as the sixteenth century and runs straight through to the twenty-first.”

The patent application includes 25 broad claims covering a range of pumpkins with bumpy surfaces (i.e., 5% to 50% of surface is “warted”), a range of wart sizes relative to the pumpkin's surface and a range of wart colors. The application also claims a range of pumpkin patches (i.e., 25% to 75% of patch contains warty pumpkins). It also claims specific varieties – the application states that the “invention” may “comprise a Cucurbita pepo and/or maxima,” encompassing fruit called gourds and squashes, as well as pumpkins – and it claims plant, seed and tissue of warty pumpkins.

The patent application, if granted, would impose a monopoly position in the U.S. over all Cucurbita pepo and Cucurbita maxima exhibiting a warty surface. “It's déjà vu – like the 'Enola' bean patent all over again,” says ETC's Silvia Ribeiro, referring to the U.S. patent 5,894,079 granted in 1999, which claimed a bean variety of Mexican origin, including its characteristic yellow color. The patent owner, Larry Proctor of Colorado, USA, charged that Mexican farmers were infringing his patent by selling yellow beans in the USA and shipments were stopped at the border. Proctor also sued seed companies and farmers selling or growing the Mexican yellow bean in the USA. Soon after the USPTO granted the patent, ETC Group denounced it as “Mexican bean biopiracy.” The Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), with support from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, filed an official challenge in late 2000. The USPTO reexamined the patent and rejected all of its claims back in 2005. But the patent owner appealed the ruling and the patent is still under dispute.[1] “So for almost a decade now – that's half of a patent's lifespan – farmers and seed companies have lost lucrative markets because of a monopoly that everyone – except the patent holder – agrees is technically invalid and morally unjust,” says Ribeiro. “If the USPTO accepts this warty pumpkin patent, it will be another wart on its already blemished record permitting the monopolization of indigenous knowledge.”

An important difference between the 'Enola' bean case and the current case of the warty pumpkin is that the USPTO has not yet granted the patent, though it may decide the application's fate as early as February 4, which is 60 days after its publication. ETC Group and others, including growers and sellers of warted pumpkins in the U.S., have sent the USPTO documentation of the existence of warted pumpkins dating well before – in some cases centuries before – Siegers Seed Company's “invention” timeline, which begins in 2002. (See PDF at for illustrations.) There's such a plethora of “prior art” that even the patent-happy USPTO shouldn't be able to overlook it. ETC Group also raised its concerns about the pending patent with The World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) based in Tainan, Taiwan. AVRDC holds accessions of Cucurbita pepo and maxima in its gene bank – some from the U.S. – and a U.S. patent could have implications for the Center's Cucurbit plant breeding and germplasm exchange. “We know from the 'Enola' bean patent debacle that even an obviously bad patent can still live a long and destructive life,” says Kathy Jo Wetter from ETC Group's U.S. office. “The USPTO should reject all 25 claims of the patent application on warted pumpkins.”

[1] See ETC Group, “Hollow Victory: Enola Bean Patent Smashed At Last (Maybe),” 29 April 2008, available on the Internet:

For more information, contact:

Pat Mooney - ETC Group (Ottawa, Canada)
Phone: +1 613 2412267 Cell: +1 613 240 0045

Silvia Ribeiro – ETC Group (Mexico City)
Phone: 011 52 5555 6326 64

Kathy Jo Wetter - ETC Group (Durham, NC, USA)
Phone: +1 919 688 7302

Anyhow, as anyone worth their weight in agricultural experience knows, Siegers, Regardless of their claims, did not invent this novel and attractive trait and in fact do not deserve a patent on this trait, their variety or any other living organism. First and foremost the claims are broad enough to include pretty much any species of the Cucurbrita family which show some amount of the bumpy trait, any intrepid breeder or preservationist would surely realize the immense scope of such a statement and the amount of varieties that it would cover and in term give "ownership", legal rights, and the ability to sue traditional farmers, plant breeders, and individual gardeners to Siegers, you see this "Warty" trait just happens to show up in hundreds of traditionally bred hybrid cultivars in the public domain as well as hundreds of Open Pollinated cultivars in the public domain, this includes summer squash such as the C. Pepo yellow crookneck that shows this warty characteristic in a repressed state a maturity, tons of gourds, and obviously in C. Moschata, C. Pepo, and C. Mixta winter squash varieties (for those unfamiliar with the abundance of the "Warty" characteristic go take a look at the pictures on or of squash for the scope we are speaking of). In other words this sets up almost all Open Pollinated seed traders, savers, and plant breeders to face legal action via Siegers due to their supposed "invention" being apparent in home garden crops. Bio-Piracy in the truest sense of the word, or as I am wont to call it "Bio-Terrorism".

You see, Siegers didn't "create" this trait, they didn't even "find" it, they only took a common trait to the Cucurbrita family and tried to patent it with a wide definition of what they "own" in a power grab. The "warty" trait has been documented as far back as the mid 1700's in the cucurbrita species and it is nearly a certainty that Native Americans ferreted out this gene and worked with it for several thousand years before that time, and yet they had the respect for humankind and nature to know that they did not own it, fast forward to the 21'st century and some corporate shill, piece of trash in a suit setting in an over sized office at Siegers believes he can "own" that trait, I don't think so my friend. Trust me, when I read this on Aggrarian Grrls site this morning, I was livid. So much so that I call Siegers, and guess what, I managed to get the e-mail and phone number of the fellow in charge of this clusterfuck and I've got some questions to ask him. Granted, I don't know if the patent has been accepted or not at this point in time, but at some point someone has got to hold the fire to the feet of these "bio-pirates" and while I know that my phone call is but a tiny contribution, it still makes them aware that we will not have our rights as an agrarian culture taken from us.

It's as simple as this, even if the patent is granted we will not stop growing varieties showing these special traits, neither will we stop using them for breeding material, and neither shall we stop trading these varieties amongst the fellow citizen-farmers of our beautiful planet. These genes belong to everyone and can not be privatized by any person or corporation, at current there are a number of intrepid independent plant breeders working on a limited creative commons license which will leave seed in the public domain but out of the hands of corporations, meaning that we will be able to keep the novel traits bred into plants by our ancestors and folks at places like Monsanto and Syngenta and Siegers will never be allowed to place their filthy hands on traditional varieties or traits..

Just for clarification, to my knowledge Siegers is an independently owned seed company, however they recieve many of their selections of seed available from their cataloug from a Monsanto subsidiary, more importantly, even if they didn't associate with Monsanto the patenting of such "life" should be considered unacceptable to any traditional farmer and as such Siegers should be boycotted. Perhaps Siegers would feel differently about their claim of "ownership" if they had to pay reparations to the Native Americans, Independent Plant Breeders, and Preservationist who kept this novel trait around, bulk payments to the descendants of these groups would be acceptable as well.

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