Intellectual property exhaustion, breeder frustration, and hindered innovation

Reviewing U.S. organic corn seed development


  • A. Bryan Endres University of Illinois
  • Jessica Guarino University of Illinois
  • Nabilah Nathani University of Illinois



Seed Sharing, Organic Corn, Transdisciplinary Research Networks, Intellectual Property, Legal, Breeding Networks, Contracts, Land-Grant University, Open-Source Seed


Private-sector dominance of plant breeding consti­tutes the present norm of organic seed genetics research, which has generated concerns in the organic farming community in this era of robust intellectual property protections. Intellectual prop­erty restrictions primarily in the form of certifi­cates, patents, and contractual arrangements are blamed for stifling the innovation of organic seed varieties. To better understand the challenges small-scale and university-based breeders and researchers face in organic corn seed genetic devel­opment, this article provides an overview of intel­lectual property structures surrounding seed inno­vation and sharing. After describing the legal landscape in which organic corn seed research and development occurs, the article details research efforts exploring the veracity of claims that con­tractual arrangements (in the form of seed-sharing agreements between breeders and universities) sti­fle the innovation of organic varieties. In doing so, the article describes the search methodology uti­lized and highlights a critical barrier to research: the closely guarded nature of private contracts that parties are reluctant to reveal. While we were able to identify several data points that highlighted the importance of seed-sharing agreements as a part of the intellectual property regime controlling organ­ics research and breeding, we were unable to obtain contracts or identify disputes over contractual lan­guage to further analyze. Such contractual language only becomes available upon consent and release by individual parties to the contract or by litigation that exposes the contractual language, both of which we attempted to explore and utilize. The article concludes with a discussion of why contrac­tual arrangements in the context of organic corn seed development are an informative piece of the intellectual property puzzle worth exploring, as well as future points of research necessary to yield data substantiating the concerns of stakeholders in the organic seed industry.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biographies

A. Bryan Endres, University of Illinois

Professor of Food & Agricultural Law and Director, Bock Agricultural Law & Policy Program, Depart­ment of Agricultural and Consumer Economics

Jessica Guarino, University of Illinois

J.D., LL.M., Postdoc­toral Legal Research Associate, Bock Agricultural Law and Policy Program

Nabilah Nathani, University of Illinois

J.D. Nathani was Research Assistant, Bock Agricultural Law & Policy Program.

Special section logo (INFAS, eOrganic, and USDA NIFA)



How to Cite

Endres, A. B., Guarino, J., & Nathani, N. (2023). Intellectual property exhaustion, breeder frustration, and hindered innovation: Reviewing U.S. organic corn seed development. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 12(4), 1–11.