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July 19, 2008

Scottish Raspberries in China

Here's a bit of news that kind of surprised me:

Chinese deal is berry good news for Scottish raspberry growers (The Scotsman)

First of all (this isn't the surprising part), let me just say that you don't have to be in the berry business (or the fruit blogging business) very long to get really sick of all the "berry"="very" puns. It's not that clever--give it a rest.

Secondly, note the one small line in here:

"While there is currently no plant royalties legislation relating to raspberries in China, Kerby reckoned a good deal has been struck."


China is basically the world capital of intellectual property theft, has no mechanisms of or, as far as anyone can tell, real interest in, enforcement of patent law. Enforcing plant patent law is tough in the best of cases (note that SCRI seems to be satisfied with 75% success in the Spanish case mentioned in the article, and that is in an EU country with rigorous laws). SCRI has, in my mind, essentially given their raspberry varieties to the Chinese people, and probably to much of the entire world. I have spoken to fruit breeders who have gone to China and seen whole vast fields of what they recongized as their varieties, but were being distributed under other names and claimed as Chinese-developed varieties. They've got a billion and a half people and a gigantic and arcane legal bureaucracy--does any one really think they're going to keep any kind of handle on that? One breeder I know, when asked how to protect one's varieties in China, responded with "By making sure they never, ever enter that country".

I'm not sure the headline even makes sense. Good news for Scottish raspberry growers? How so? Because SCRI is presumably making money on this which will support further breeding for Scotland? I hope it's quite a lot. Otherwise this is just competition for Scottish exports in China, and, probably elsewhere in the world, once these escape the flimsy legal bounds of the deal that's been struck and are being propagated freely.

I don't know, maybe I'm just a cynic.

Update: Just to be clear, this isn't intended as a criticism of the Chinese people or Chinese breeding. There really is not a cultural understanding of the idea of plant patents (hell, we barely have one in the U.S.) and it's not even really illegal (or at least wasn't last I checked a few years back) so it's not like it's a nation of criminals. China does have many fine plant breeding programs and breeders, so I'm not intending to imply that all they do is steal and re-name varieties. But it does happen.

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