Frequently asked questions: Plant Breeders' Rights

NB: The answers set out here are simplifications which are supplied for guidance only. It is advisable to consult a patent attorney before making any decisions relating to Plant Breeders’ Rights.

Who can protect a plant variety?

Only the breeder of a new plant variety can protect that new plant variety. In South Africa a breeder is defined as:

(a) the person who bred or discovered and developed the variety;

(b) the employer of an employee who bred, or discovered and developed the variety, if the employee did so in the scope of his/her employment; or

(c) the successor in title of parties identified in (a) and (b).

What are the requirements for protecting a new plant variety?

Plant Breeders’ Rights are only granted where the plant variety is (a) novel, (b) distinct, (c) uniform and (d) stable.

Novelty refers to the newness of the variety. Unlike in the case of patents, absolute novelty is not a requirement for Plant Breeders’ Rights; a variety is considered to be new if propagating material has not been made available in South Africa for longer than 1 year and also has not been available in other countries for more than 4 years (6 years for trees and vines).

A plant variety is distinct if some characteristics are clearly distinguishable from any other plant variety of the same kind of plant.

The plant variety should be sufficiently uniform with regard to its characteristics; all plants in a variety should look alike.

A plant variety is stable when the unique characteristics remain unchanged after repeated propagation.

What is protected by Plant Breeders’ Rights?

Plant Breeders’ Rights protect the variety but not the standard breeding procedures that are used to develop the new variety.

Can the same variety be protected by Plant Breeders’ Rights and at the same time be patented?

A plant variety may be patented as well as protected by Plant Breeders’ Rights when a microbial vector is used to change the genetic composition of the plant, or alternative gene technologies were used during the development of the plant variety. The gene technology or gene sequence may be patented while the end product of the technology (new plant variety) may be protected by Plant Breeders’ Rights.

Can I obtain protection for more than one country from a single application?

Generally, a plant breeder needs to file an application for Plant Breeders’ Rights with the authority of each Country of interest individually. However, the European Union operates a Plant Breeders’ Rights system which covers the territory of its 28 member States and the African Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) operates a Plant Breeders’ Rights system which covers the territory of its 17 member States. The contact details of the authorities responsible for the granting of Plant Breeders’ Rights are available at

Are all plant varieties protectable?

It is not possible to protect all plant varieties in South Africa. In order for a plant variety to be eligible for protection, the relevant plant species or crop must appear in the list of plants as determined and varied by the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).

What is the duration of Plant Breeders' Rights?

Plant Breeders' Rights are granted for 25 years for vines and trees, and for 20 years for all other cases calculated from the date on which a certificate of registration is issued.

What documents and information do you need from me in order prepare a Plant Breeders’ Rights application?

  • Full name(s) and nationalities of the applicant and breeder(s).
  • Street address of the applicant and breeder(s).
  • The proposed denomination for the new variety.
  • The country in which the variety was bred or discovered.
  • A completed technical questionnaire. We can supply this to you for completion.
  • Particulars of preceding applications in other countries for Plant Breeders' Rights or for inclusion in official variety lists in respect of the same plant.
  • Details of propagating material and/or harvested material of the variety which was offered for sale or has been marketed.
  • A Power of Attorney and other necessary Forms. We shall supply these for signing.
  • A Deed of Assignment from the breeder(s) in cases where the breeder(s) is not the applicant. We shall supply this for signature.
  • Plant material of the candidate varieties must be supplied for evaluation within 12 months from the lodging of the application.

What is Breeders’ Exemption?

Breeders’ exemption is the right of a breeder to use protected varieties for breeding purposes and/or research purposes without authorisation.

What is Farmers’ Privilege?

Farmers’ privilege, also known as farmers’ exemption, refers to the right of farmers to re-sow seed harvested from protected varieties, on the same plot from which it was harvested, for their own use or sale.

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