Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Siegers Attempts to Patent Pumpkin History

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: gardens, seeds, farms,

Painting of a warty pumpkin from the 1770s.

Figure 1. 1770s vintage painting of a warted pumpkin.

In an interesting move in the wholesale garden seed supply industry, Siegers Seed Company in Holland, Michigan has been quietly pushing an all-encompassing patent application through the system that would essentially allow them to own a piece of genetic history in the pumpkin and squash families. Siegers’ move appears to be aimed at owning the rights to virtually all warts on pumpkins and their relatives. And they want to own the rights to all patches in which warted pumpkins appear. Huh? My ancestors grew warted gourds, pumpkins and squashes long before Siegers was even in business, and they received the seed from Native American gardeners who had warted cucurbits in their patches for who knows how long.

Siegers wants to patent this pumpkin because they say it is unique and new.

Figure 2. Warted pumpkin photo included in the Siegers patent application.

The pumpkin patent application states: In a large commercial field of multiple unknown pumpkin varieties, a single fruit was discovered displaying a greater degree of warting than has ever been observed in prior experience by the inventor [the inventor is listed as the director of marketing for Siegers]. On rare occasions in years prior to this discovery, pumpkin fruits had been observed to possess rumpled or bumpy surfaces as described in FIG. 1. The discovered fruit had a high frequency of bumpy skin as described in FIG. 1, and a lower percentage of warting as described in FIG. 2. The fruit was collected and seed was saved. 

I am surprised that Siegers' inventor seems so unaware of the long warty history of pumpkins, squashes and gourds … at least as I read the patent application. I don’t have an issue with Siegers wanting to protect their investment in a particular pumpkin hybrid, but it bothers me to no end that they seem to be attempting to own the warty history of all members of the squash family.

Read more about this patent application here.

Read the Siegers press release on the new pumpkin family here

What do you think? Should Siegers own the warts on a random pumpkin line you develop in your backyard and prevent you from selling it at your farm stand?

The color plate is from: Botanical illustration, ca. 1770, reproduced from H. Paris, “Paintings (1769-1774) by A. N.Duchesne and the History of Cucurbita pepo,” Annals of Botany 85, 2000, p. 820.

The black and white is reproduced from U.S. patent application US20080301830A1.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

hank will_2
2/6/2009 10:25:13 AM

Hey Lori -- It very well may not get approved. And the company may well be aware of it. But just by filing and having patent pending on the warts, they get to own the market for a while ... since most other companies won't take the risk of selling warted pumpkins until the patent's disposition is completely settled. this sometimes takes 10 years ... so if they can own the market for 10 years on a bogus patent app, why not, right?

2/5/2009 3:46:31 PM

Hank, I can't believe this would actually be approved! Surely whoever has the power to yea or nay this would check into the history before making a decision! Of course, I have no idea how that system works.

cindy murphy
2/5/2009 3:39:22 PM

I remember reading about a similar such patent, (that I believe was awarded and has since expired). I can't remember the particulars - I want to say it was the first vegetable patent awarded, and I think it was for bi-color sweet corn. I remember the book though - "How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table", by Russ Parsons. A peach of a book - fascinating reading about agribusiness, the return of the local farm market's popularity, and histories of several fruits and vegetables. I very much recommend the book for anyone interested in where their produce comes from, and those interested in ag history. My husband is a market reporter for the USDA FF&V Market News Service, and I'd give him the "Produce Quiz of the Day" covering facts I read in the book. It was rare that I'd stump him unless it was something like "how many English peas are contained in a pound?" "HA!" I'd scream. (Weird form of amusement, I know.) I'll have to tell him of Sieger's plans; he'd be interested, I'm sure. It's part of his job to ensure farmers are getting a fair deal based on the current market prices. It sounds like if the patent goes through, the farmers may be getting less than a fair deal. Please keep us all posted here, Hank.

hank will_2
2/5/2009 11:56:17 AM

Hey Cindy -- Siegers is a wholesale supplier to mainly growers, I believe. I was pretty soft in my analysis today, but won't be quite so soft tomorrow. I got my hands on an interesting piece of information that should make Siegers embarrassed. Cucurbits are among the most genetically plastic organisms out there ... and pretending that warts is something new is far more than some benign oversight. We all watched the makers of Roundup spread their pollen everywhere and claim ownership of the resulting seed genetics ... This patent application has not been approved ... but we can write to Siegers and we can spread the word and we can boycott growers who use Siegers varieties. Again, I am all for Sieger protecting the specific hybrid, but not the genetic trait ... it would be like me claiming that red corn is new and then patenting all corns with any hint of red in their kernels.

cindy murphy
2/5/2009 11:40:23 AM

"Huh?" is right. Holland is right up the highway from me, and I've never heard of Sieger's Seed Company. "Huh?" also for the company's patent application that would allow them to own the rights for all warty pumpkins. The legal system never ceases to amaze me. It'll be interesting to see how this turns out, although I suppose it could take years.