1. What is the OSSI Pledge?
The OSSI Pledge reads: “You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.”
2. Why was OSSI created?
OSSI was created to counterbalance the trend towards patenting and restricting the use of seeds and the rights of farmers and gardeners who buy them. Over the past 30 years, patents and licenses and other restrictions on the uses of seed have spread to many parts of the world. If this trend continues, these critically important genetic resources may become so legally encumbered that farmers and gardeners may be unable to do anything more than rent seeds from the companies who control them. Today, the purchase of many varieties of corn, soybean, sugarbeet, and cotton seeds in the U.S. by a farmer constitutes a one-time rental of the seed for a single cropping season. “Bag tag” licenses prevent farmers from saving, replanting, breeding, and sharing seed that has been rented, no longer purchased. In addition, plant breeders are prohibited from using these seeds to improve our crops and protect them from pests and diseases. These legal restrictions on seeds benefit a few companies but jeopardize the freedom of others to use this critically important natural resource.
3. What is OSSI?
OSSI stands for the Open Source Seed Initiative. OSSI has three interconnected objectives. First, OSSI is a new way to save and exchange seed that ensures the seed will remain free of patents, licenses, and other restrictions on freedom to use. This method of exchange involves commitment to an open source seed Pledge. Second, OSSI maintains a list of crop varieties that have been pledged as “freed seed” and provides a link to sources of seed for those varieties. Third, OSSI works to raise awareness of the importance of keeping seeds unencumbered from legal restrictions and free to be used, shared, saved, bred, and sold.
4. What is “open source”?
Open source is a way of mandating the freedom to use a resource and ensuring that it remains free. Originally developed for computer software, the open source model makes something like computer code, or seeds, freely available for use and provides a mechanism for that material to stay freely available. The material can be modified, shared, sold, and reproduced. Some may choose to modify and improve the material. These derivatives must also remain free for others to use and cannot be restricted through patents and licenses.
5. What is an “open source” seed?
An open source seed is seed of a plant variety the genetics of which cannot be restricted by patents or other intellectual property rights. OSSI-Pledge seeds are open source inasmuch as the seeds are available for unrestricted use by anyone who agrees to the OSSI Pledge. But in addition, the OSSI Pledge requires that any subsequent distributions of OSSI seed, or of derivatives bred from OSSI seed, be accompanied by the Pledge. In this way, OSSI intends to develop an expanding pool of genetic resources that are available now and in the future for unrestricted use by scientists, farmers, and gardeners.
6. In what sense are OSSI-Pledged seeds “freed seeds”?
On the basis of the OSSI Pledge, OSSI-Pledged seed is considered to be “freed seed.” That is, its use for any purpose cannot be restricted. It is important to understand that we use the word “freed,” not “free,” because we refer to freedom and not price. OSSI-Pledged seeds are freed from the patents and licenses that can restrict use. The OSSI Pledge is a commitment to foster unfettered exchange of germplasm and the freedom to use the material for any purpose, with the single proviso that by accepting the Pledge the user commits to allowing others freedom to use the material or derivatives of the material.
7. How does OSSI benefit gardeners?
By using OSSI’s “freed seed,” gardeners participate directly in the global movement to maintain free access to plant genetic resources. By buying seed of OSSI varieties, gardeners support the breeders, seed growers and seed companies that share a commitment to freeing the seed. Using open source seed helps keep the food supply secure for future generations, assures broad food choices and diverse genetics, developed often over thousands of years, do not become lost as restricted seed comes to predominate.
8. How does OSSI benefit farmers?
OSSI-Pledged seed preserves the farmer’s right to save, replant, share, breed, and sell seed. It is this fundamental right that is now being eroded globally as transnational seed companies push for the worldwide expansion of restrictive seed laws and intellectual property rights. The independent farmer has long been the basis of food security for local communities and in many countries is the first line of defense against hunger. With use-restricted seeds, a farmer is unable to plant a new crop without purchasing new seed from an outside supplier. Whether the cause is cataclysm or merely economics, no seed means the farmer produces no crop. Open source, unrestricted seed allows the farmer to plant again if the patented seeds are unavailable, unwanted or unaffordable.
9. How does OSSI benefit seed companies?
By selling and emphasizing OSSI-Pledged seed, the seed company makes a statement that they, like their customers, care about the sustainability of the food system, the freedom of growers around the world to create and control their own seed, and the need to keep the genes that undergird our food system accessible to everyone. Moreover, just as with fair trade and organics, there is a significant potential market among ethical consumers and gardeners for “freed seed.”
10. How does OSSI benefit consumers?
If we want to maintain and increase the choices in the colors and flavors and nutrient contents of the vegetables we eat, we need to buy those varied foods. If we wish to maintain the ability of farmers to remain as independent farmers and to feed us no matter what, we need to support food suppliers and seed companies that offer lines kept free for future generations by OSSI designation.
11. What is an OSSI Food Partner?
OSSI is interested in developing non-profit partnerships with organizations and businesses that use, sell, or process the produce grown from OSSI-Pledged seed. These OSSI Food Partners might cooperate with OSSI in a variety of ways. For instance, OSSI is now pioneering a Food Partner relationship with California’s Good Earth Natural Foods. Good Earth arranges for local farmers to grow OSSI-Pledged varieties, and then markets the produce to its customers using the OSSI logo and outreach materials.
OSSI would like to develop similar, creative relationships with other Food Partners. Possibilities include CSA farms providing OSSI-Pledged varieties in their share baskets, restaurants highlighting OSSI-Pledged produce on their menus, schools and colleges with “freed seed” sections in their gardens, and vendors of processed foods made from OSSI-Pledged varieties.Together with such Food Partners, OSSI envisions building a community of plant breeders, farmers, gardeners, food retailers, food processors, eaters, educators, and food activists who understand the importance of control over seeds and their pivotal role in the struggle for a sustainable and just food system.OSSI invites proposals from potential Food Partners and looks forward to crafting mutually beneficial arrangements with businesses and organizations that want to engage and educate their customers to help free the seed and take back control over our food. To discuss a prospective OSSI Food Partnership, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
12. Do I have any obligation to OSSI if I make use of these seeds?
If you choose to use OSSI-Pledged seeds, your obligation is to accept the Pledge. Other than that, you have freedom to plant, save, share, multiply, redistribute, and breed with the seeds.
13. If I sell or resell OSSI-Pledged seed, what are my obligations regarding OSSI labeling?
The intent of the Open Source seed designation is that future generations of open source varieties, and any varieties derived or selected from open source varieties, continue to be designated as open source into the indefinite future. It is essential to the success of the OSSI mission that future generations of open source seed and its derivatives continue to carry the OSSI Pledge. Any time that OSSI-Pledged seed is grown to produce a next generation of seed for sale, and any time a seed buyer sells OSSI-Pledged seed in a quantity sufficient that there is likelihood that it will be further reproduced as seed for sale, the OSSI Pledge, should always be included with the transfer. If you are selling packets of OSSI-Pledged seed, we encourage you to include the OSSI logo, pledge and web reference on the seed packs and alongside OSSI designated seed on your web site and in your catalog.
14. Is the OSSI Pledge legally binding?
We believe the Pledge to be legally enforceable. We chose a simple pledge to highlight the spirit and rationale behind our initiative. We also feel that our Pledge has the greatest chance of being transferred with the seed because of its brevity and simplicity. Our goal is to support the free exchange of plant genetic resources and to foster breeding, seed saving, and seed stewardship.
15. May I use a trademark in connection with an OSSI-Pledged variety?
A trademark is ownership of a certain name associated with a certain kind of produce or crop. Trademarks restrict use of a word or symbol, not use of any underlying goods. You may use a trademark with an OSSI-Pledged variety UNDER CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES ONLY. It is NOT acceptable to use a trademark to try to control access to or use of the seed of an OSSI-Pledged variety. It IS acceptable to use a trademark to indicate or identify a certain farm, producer, distributor, marketing group, or other entity, including those that have agreements to grow and market the variety according to certain standards. Accordingly:
- The trademarked name registered and used, (in any context, must be a different name from the variety name under which the variety is OSSI-Pledged. The two names cannot be the same.
- No restrictions may exist on the rights of farmers, gardeners, and breeders to use, save seed from, plant, or sell seed from the trademarked variety as long as they do not use the trademark.
- All descriptions in catalogs and on all packaging that contain viable seed must: 1. state the variety name under which the variety is Pledged, 2. state that this variety is an OSSI-Pledged variety, and 3. give a link to the official OSSI website.
- Where a product description, web page, catalog, or package contains products involving OSSI-Pledged varieties but that do not include viable seed (such as flour or ground grain), the trademark holder may refer to the OSSI-Pledged status of one or more components or may not, at their discretion. If the trademark holder does opt to refer to the OSSI-Pledged status of one or more of their product’s components, they must follow the same three policies as explained in Point 3, above.
- Nothing in agreements among those using the trademark and nothing on the packaging, catalog listings, or advertising for the product may violate the terms of the OSSI Pledge. No restrictions may exist on the rights of farmers, gardeners, and breeders to use, breed from, reproduce, or sell seed from the trademarked variety as long as they do not use the trademark.
- Trademark owners ARE allowed to make claims as to the superiority of the trademark-labeled material with respect to genetic purity, freedom from seed-born disease, quality, or other issues. Trademark owners are also allowed to say that buying the trademarked product promotes certain goals or supports a University, program, or other entity.
16. Is OSSI against intellectual property rights?
Users of OSSI seed have the freedom to reproduce that seed for their own use and for sale, and to use the seed in research and breeding. In that respect, the OSSI Pledge is incompatible with the intellectual property rights as currently applied to plants such as utility patents, Plant Variety Protection, Plant Breeders Rights, and Material Transfer Agreements that limit the rights of seed recipients to produce seed for replanting, for sale, and for use in research or breeding. OSSI is not opposed to arrangements that require sharing the benefits of new varieties with the breeder, as long as those arrangements do not restrict the freedom to use the seed.
17. Are any OSSI-Pledged varieties GMO?
OSSI does not currently accept material containing transgenic (GMO) components for designation as an OSSI variety. Given the on-going societal conversation around both demonstrable and possible ecological effects, the close ties between GMO’s development and restrictive intellectual property arrangements, and the discomfort expressed within the OSSI community regarding transgenic plants, we do not feel that GMO material is currently appropriate for OSSI.
18. Where can I get OSSI-Pledged seeds?
OSSI is not a seed company. Rather, we work with seed companies who are interested in supporting OSSI’s mission. OSSI seeds are available from a number of different seed companies, or directly from the plant breeder, depending on the variety. Please see our OSSI Seeds page for more information on where to purchase OSSI seeds
19. How did the breeders who released the OSSI-Pledged varieties get permission to release them using the OSSI Pledge?
The breeders who developed OSSI-Pledged cultivars used plant germplasm that was already in the public domain and was not legally restricted. Through their breeding work, they have developed unique and novel material. They are choosing to share the results of their labor freely, with the proviso that anyone else using the seed they provide also agrees to share. Those breeders working for public institutions (e.g., Land-grant universities, the USDA) had to receive permission from their employing institutions to release their varieties with the OSSI Pledge.
20. Can I designate a variety that I have developed as OSSI-Pledged?
We welcome the designation of additional varieties as OSSI-Pledged. To receive OSSI designation your variety must meet certain criteria. Find more details on the Get Involved Page.
21. Can an F1 hybrid be OSSI-pledged?
Yes. Since hybrids do not breed true, we anticipate that OSSI-pledged F1 hybrids (including multi-parent hybrids) will be useful to others primarily as a parent in a breeding program, although like other OSSI-pledged cultivars, they are freed for use for any purpose.
OSSI will require the contributor to identify the parents involved in the cross that produced the hybrid, and to describe the genetically controlled traits expressed or carried by the parents or the hybrid that might make the hybrid valuable in a breeding program. OSSI will not require that the parents themselves be OSSI-pledged or available. The breeder will be required to assure us that to the best of his/her knowledge, there are no intellectual property protection claims associated with the hybrid’s parents that would limit freedom of use of the hybrid or its progeny for breeding, seed saving, replanting or sale.
22. May I OSSI-Pledge my new Cannabis variety or germplasm?
OSSI accepts applications to Pledge industrial hemp Cannabis varieties (only). (It is not yet legal to sell non-industrial hemp varieties.) Industrial hemp is defined as the plant Cannabis sativa L., and any part of the plant, whether growing or not, containing a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis. Those submitting an application to Pledge industrial hemp must also submit laboratory testing results confirming that THC levels conform with the above definition.
23. I bred a variety and released it some time ago. It is already available from a number of seed companies. Can I contribute such a variety to OSSI?
Yes. The ideal situation is to designate (Pledge) a variety just before or as the variety is released so that all the seed of the variety in circulation is transmitted with the Pledge. However, OSSI does accept varieties that have been released previously. We evaluate such varieties on a case by case basis with the main criterion being how widely distributed the variety is before Pledging. If the variety is widely available from many seed companies it may be impractical to Pledge the variety at that point since having both OSSI-Pledged and non-OSSIPledged seed of the same variety in commerce could be confusing. When the variety is available only from the breeder or from a few seed companies it can usually be pledged as Open Source.
24. After accepting the OSSI Pledge, can I contract for seed multiplication production with these seeds or for a variety I develop from these seeds?
Yes. If you choose to multiply these seeds or their derivatives for future sales, you may do so without fear of violating the open source seed Pledge. Selling seeds is fully consistent with the OSSI model. The restriction created by the OSSI Pledge is that you cannot restrict others’ rights to use these seeds or their progeny. That is, others should be able to purchase your seeds and have the right to breed with them, to save them, and to transfer them under the OSSI Pledge.
25. Does the OSSI Pledge forbid all contracts or agreements for OSSI-Pledged varieties?
No. In a limited range of circumstances OSSI accepts certain contracts or agreements in order to facilitate seed increase and/or provide benefit sharing to breeders. OSSI’s principal mission is to provide breeders, farmers, and gardeners with seed they can use in any way they choose. Seed increase is an essential step in the production or release of seed of most varieties. In addition, OSSI supports the goal of facilitating plant breeding by rewarding breeders for the increment of value that they add to the gene pool when they develop a new and useful plant variety. Contracts or agreements between breeders, growers, and seed companies are important tools for facilitating seed increase and/or ensuring an appropriate return of benefits to the breeder. OSSI permits agreements that include a provision for benefit sharing with the breeder as long as the agreement passes no benefit sharing obligation or any other restrictions on to subsequent buyers of the seed. These arrangements are based on practices already in use among OSSI breeders and seed company Partners. Formally, OSSI’s policy is as follows:
26. If I develop a new variety from an OSSI-Pledged variety, should I release and distribute it as an OSSI-Pledged variety?
Yes. The goal of OSSI is to expand the pool of varieties subject to the Pledge and therefore freely available for use in breeding, seed saving, and seed stewardship. If you develop a new variety from an OSSI-Pledged variety you should release it under the OSSI framework. We ask that you inform OSSI about your variety so that we may include it in the list of OSSI-Pledged varieties
27. Am I obligated to provide seed of a variety I develop and release under the OSSI Pledge to anyone who requests it?
No. The developer of a variety released under the OSSI Pledge retains the right to distribute or not to distribute seed as s/he chooses. However, once the distribution has been made the terms of the Pledge apply for both donor and recipient.
28. Who is part of OSSI’s leadership team?
OSSI was started by a group of plant breeders, farmers, seed companies, non-profit organizations and policy makers who are committed to promoting and maintaining fair and open access to plant genetic resources worldwide. We seek to collaborate with other organizations working to create new sharing mechanisms for plants and seeds.
29. Can the OSSI-Pledged status of a variety be revoked or withdrawn?
The OSSI-Pledged status of a variety cannot be revoked or withdrawn by either the breeder or by OSSI unless the Pledging itself was illegitimate. Pledging may be annulled at the discretion of OSSI if the Pledging turns out to be illegitimate. A Pledging would be illegitimate, for example, if it was later determined that the contributor did not breed the variety or have the right to Pledge it, or had violated someone’s intellectual property rights in developing it.
30. How can I be part of OSSI?
OSSI welcomes participation in its work in three ways. Anyone can become an OSSI Member by declaring support for OSSI’s objectives and activities. You can become an OSSI Partner if you agree to sell OSSI seed to others in accordance with the Pledge. You can become an OSSI Variety Contributor if you agree to designate a variety that you have originated as an OSSI-Pledged variety and to distribute it in accordance with the OSSI Pledge. We also welcome donations to help support our work. For details on these options, visit our Get Involved page.
We maintain a website at www.osseeds.org where more information on our initiative has been posted. Please feel free to contact us through this site.