The system of plant variety protection came into being with the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants by a Diplomatic Conference in Paris on December 2, 1961. This was the point at which there was recognition of the intellectual property rights of plant breeders in their varieties on an international basis.
The following chapters of this introduction to the System of Plant Variety Protection explain what a plant variety is, the nature of plant breeding, the need for protection of plant varieties;
What is a plant variety?
Classification of the Plant Kingdom
The plant kingdom is vast and has been classified into a ranking system containing many divisions and sub-divisions. The division which is most familiar to many people is the "species"; however, the species level comes quite low down the classification of the plant kingdom. The most commonly used ranks in classification of plants are, in descending order, Kingdom, Division, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. Thus, in general, each species belongs to a genus, each genus belongs to a family, etc. These ranks are called taxonomic groups or "taxa" (singular: taxon) for short.
The following example illustrates the taxonomic classification of soft wheat:
Class: Liliopsida (Monocotyledonae)
Species: Triticum aestivum L. (Soft Wheat)
The rank of species, by which most plants are known, is probably the most important because it is the basis from which the classification is constructed. It denotes a group of organisms sharing a long number of heritable characteristics, which are reproductively isolated. Thus, plants of different species such as rose, potato, wheat and apple cannot inter-breed by natural means.
Although the rank of species is an important botanical classification, it is clear that the plants within a species can be very different. Farmers and growers need plants which are adapted to the environment in which they are grown and which are suited to the cultivation practices employed. Therefore, farmers and growers use a more precisely defined group of plants, selected from within a species, called a "plant variety". The definition of a plant variety starts by stating that it is "a plant grouping within a single botanical taxon of the lowest known rank, ..." This confirms that a plant variety results from the lowest sub-division of the species. However, to understand more completely what a plant variety is:
“a plant grouping within a single botanical taxon of the lowest known rank, which grouping, irrespective of whether the conditions for the grant of a breeder's right are fully met, can be
- defined by the expression of the characteristics resulting from a given genotype or combination of genotypes,
- distinguished from any other plant grouping by the expression of at least one of the said characteristics and
- considered as a unit with regard to its suitability for being propagated unchanged;"
This full definition clarifies that a variety must be recognizable by its characteristics, recognizably different from any other variety and remain unchanged through the process of propagation. If a plant variety grouping does not meet these criteria, it is not considered to be a variety within the UPOV system. However, the definition also makes clear that this is irrespective of whether the conditions for the grant of a breeder's right are fully met and this is not, as such, a condition for determining if a variety is eligible for protection.