08 Dec 2004
One form of legal protection for biotechnology inventions, which is not often used, is trade secrecy. This right, in contrast to patents and copyrights, is not registered and is of unlimited duration, as long as the holder of the trade secret makes reasonable efforts to maintain secrecy.
With regard to keeping parental lines of hybrid seed as a trade secret, for example, identification by private code of fields of inbred parent lines of corn has been deemed, in the 1994 Iowa case Pioneer Hi-Bred v. Holden Foundation Seeds, sufficient to constitute a reasonable effort to maintain secrecy, even though the corn was grown outdoors and subject to misappropriation by informed "flashlight breeders." Furthermore, acquisition of the viable parent seeds that occasionally appear in bags of hybrid seeds is not antithetical to trade secrecy.
But what if the parental lines are protected by Plant Variety Certificates (akin to plant breeder's rights)? One might think that the disclosure requirement to register a plant variety would destroy the secrecy necessary for maintaining the lines as trade secrets.