Patents have been around for hundreds of years, and they exist to drive innovation by encouraging people to invest in creating new things. In agriculture and many other sectors, patents play a valuable role as they contribute to our economy and society as a whole.

When improvements in technology are found to be new, useful and inventive, a patent may be granted giving exclusive rights to make, use and sell the patented technology for a limited time in the country that grants the patent. As such, patents are recognized as incentives to encourage and foster development of products or processes in wide ranging technologies such as communications, chemistry, pharmaceuticals, electric power, and agriculture.

Seed companies are able to patent new and useful improvements in seed technology in the United States. A specific seed variety might have two kinds of patents: trait patents and varietal patents. A trait patent is a patent on a particular biotech trait, such as resistance to glyphosate, that can be present in many different soybean varieties. A varietal patent is a patent on a particular variety of soybean. A patented variety of soybean might contain several different patented traits, or none at all. Patents on seeds are what make saving and planting patented seed against the law in the United States.

The last U.S. patent on the Roundup Ready® soybean trait expired in early 2015. What this means is that if the Roundup Ready trait was the only patent that applied to a particular variety of soybean, farmers would be able to save and plant that variety after the patent expired. However, after the patent on the Roundup Ready trait expired, soybean seeds containing that trait might still be covered by other trait or varietal patents. If you are interested in saving and planting these seeds, we recommend that you check with your seed supplier to determine if the seed variety you’re considering can be legally planted and saved. If your seed dealer has a variety that can be saved, check with him about obtaining a license to legally plant saved seed of that variety.

(It’s important to note that Monsanto’s newest biotech soybean trait, called Roundup Ready 2 Yield®, is protected by different patents that are not expected to expire until near the end of the next decade, so soybeans containing this higher yielding trait can’t be legally saved and planted.)