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USDA Sets Interagency Working Group on Competition & Intellectual Property in Seeds

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the formation of an Interagency Working Group on Competition and Intellectual Property in Seeds and Other Agricultural Inputs as an immediate response to the recommendations in its recently published report "More and Better Choices for Farmers: Promoting Fair Competition and Innovation in Seeds and Other Agricultural Inputs."

Shivam Dwivedi
Interagency meeting is yet another move taken by this Administration to promote competition and innovation in the seed business (Seed World)
Interagency meeting is yet another move taken by this Administration to promote competition and innovation in the seed business (Seed World)

This move is part of the Biden-Harris Administration's broader efforts to encourage fair competition, innovation, and resilience in the seed and other agricultural input industries. To carry out the recommendations made in the report, USDA's Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt, Competition Senior Advisor Andy Green, and project cooperator Dr. Julie Dawson met with Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office Kathi Vidal and her team.

The Department of Justice was represented by Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, while the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was represented by Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter and staff. The working group will promote more equitable competition in seeds and other agricultural inputs, as well as improve public service delivery.

"Farmers demand market competition," added Under Secretary Moffitt. "Today's interagency meeting is yet another move taken by this Administration to promote competition and innovation in the seed business."

"The Biden Administration's strong commitment to American farmers, particularly small and family-owned farms, is demonstrated by our work with the USDA to support U.S. innovation in the seed and agriculture space while advancing competition," said Under Secretary Vidal. "We look forward to our work and ensuring that, while the patent system drives innovation in the agricultural environment, it does not impede competition in this crucial field."

Defending competition and the rule of law in agricultural markets, especially in seed markets," said Assistant Attorney General Kanter of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division. "Farmers and their families work extremely hard, and they ought to profit from free and fair competition." The Antitrust Division is committed to ensuring that anticompetitive actions do not reduce those benefits or result in excessive market concentration or illegal monopolies in these vital agricultural industries. We appreciate USDA's leadership on this subject and look forward to working with the FTC, USDA, and USPTO to enforce antitrust laws and safeguard farmers."

"Farmers, seed companies, and plant breeders deserve fair marketplaces in which they may make clear and educated decisions about the agricultural inputs they require to sustain a thriving food ecosystem," stated FTC Commissioner Slaughter. "We look forward to working with our federal partners to promote openness and ensure that unfair or deceptive practices and unfair competition do not push up costs, impair quality, limit or obscure choice, or stifle innovation."

In addition to establishing the working group, the USPTO and USDA exchanged letters last week expressing their commitment to making the IP system more open and equitable for farmers and seed growers. Together, the agencies will look into ways to improve the quality of the patent examination process for agricultural products and processes, such as expanding previous art search capabilities and offering extra joint training to examiners.

The working group will be coordinated by a new USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Farmer Seed Liaison, as proposed in the study. One of the liaison's roles will be to encourage communication between farmers, plant breeders, and appropriate IP bodies.

The Farmer Seed Liaison will engage with the working group to develop measures to increase transparency, minimise confusion, and otherwise assist farmers, small and mid-sized seed firms, and plant breeders in successfully navigating a complicated seed system.

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