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Siegers Seed Co. Threatens Action over Warty Pumpkins

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: pumpkins, gardens, farms,

I admit to being more than a little disappointed that Siegers Seed Co. is already playing hardball over its claim to own exclusive rights to the wart trait in cucurbits. The company evidently sent a threatening letter to Rupp Seed Company on January 12th warning that they would seek damages if Rupp didn’t cease any and all marketing, development and sales efforts at this time … once Siegers’ patent on warts was approved.

The problem with patent pending in this case is that Siegers seems to have figured out a way to own a common cucurbit gene for several years, at the very least, by tying it up in what appears to be a bogus patent application. So even if it turns out that the patent is not awarded, by the time all of the appeals and the like are completed, Siegers can threaten other companies with action, while selling wart-gene containing seeds exclusively until the case is finally settled.

Here are some facts about cucurbit warts:

1. The warted gourds were considered to be a "race" of Cucurbita pepo already in 1786.

2. Warted pumpkins 'Nantucket' and 'Brazilian Sugar' were described by numerous authors in the 19th century. According to Harry Paris, cucurbit expert and author, Bailey’s (1902) Cyclopedia of American Horticulture, pp. 1711–1713, has an illustration of 'Nantucket'. And Zhiteneva (1930) The World's Assortment of Pumpkins. Trudy Prikl. Bot. Genet. Selek. 23: 157 – 207 has photographs of numerous warted pumpkins.

3. Warted gourds of Cucurbita pepo have a history dating to 1587.

4. The Essai sur l'histoire naturelle des courges is the definitive scientific paper on the three major species of Cucurbita. This book was published in 1786 in French. You'll find a translation of Duchesne's 1786 description of Cucurbita pepo in H. S. Paris’s book, The drawings of Antoine Nicolas Duchesne for his natural history of the gourds, published in 2007 by the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France.

Here is Paris’s translation of what Duchesne had to say about warts and Cucurbita pepo: Another state of alteration is what one names warts,& which would better be designated by the name of Bumps, since they are not purely exterior excrescences, but elevations of the shell, which form within as many corresponding pits, although less in proportion, considering that the shell there is of a much greater thickness. These bumps are of two kinds: sometimes wide near the base and little elevated, they mimic transitory pimples springing from the rind by accident; sometimes higher and constricted at the base, they assume the shape of knobs; sometimes they accumulate one on top of the other, as if they lack for space. And I had the opportunity to recognize that this deformity indicates a true state of disorder, since the fruits in which it is carried to such excess do not have a single good seed, but only some imperfect rudiments.

5. Warts are conferred by a single dominant gene designated Wt, non-warted plants are wt/wt. Reference: Paris, H.S. and R.N. Brown. (2005). The genes of pumpkin and squash. HortScience 40: 1620–1630.

Take a look at the Siegers webstite to discover what seeds they sell to your favorite growers … and if you care about this warty gene grab, ask your growers to avoid planting Siegers’ seeds.

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 .

3/4/2009 8:56:51 PM

You should all be pleased to know the Patent Office has rejected all the claims. Go to the site, Public PAIR, search for application 11/999153, and read the "non-final rejection" of 2/13/2009. Applicants can rebut, and then perhaps even appeal the rejection, and YOU can follow along as they do.

2/22/2009 5:35:32 PM

The answer is clear: Buy warty pumpkin seeds from other sources now, while you can, and grow them and save seed. Or if, like me, you have last year's "Rouge vif d'Etampes" pumpkin decomposing on your front porch (it's become quite the interesting science project) see if the seeds are saveable. Share them with your friends. I say again, SHARE them. Not sell them, SHARE them. Write them and tell them how appalling this action is. Vote with your wallet, and lick a stamp. Tell Siegers that gardeners know ... compost ... when they see it. What will they think of next? A patent for round zukes? yellow cukes? striping in tomatoes? Hank, does this company wholesale to other seed companies? Should we be asking our local seed providers to avoid them? Here's the company's contact info: Toll Free: (800) 962-4999 Siegers Seed Company · 13031 Reflections Drive · Holland, MI 49424 Phone: (616) 786-4999

april m
2/17/2009 2:06:44 PM

Thank you very much for providing the source materials. I've gotten to the point that I don't believe a thing unless I can read the source material for anything. Passing the info on.....

hank will_2
2/9/2009 1:50:13 PM

Cindy --- It is a lot like the blue roses. No one is claiming a ownership of the gene(s) or the carotenoids and/or anthocyanins.

hank will_2
2/9/2009 1:47:39 PM

I hate to be a cynic, Cindy. But the patent office has U.S. in front of it ... so anything is possible :). Actually, I think they need to give the application serious consideration ... and will likely deny most if not all claims. I suspect that Siegers is aware of this, but making the application gives them a jump on the competition. I really doubt they could be that out of it not to know the fundamentals of wart genetics in cucurbits. But ... the patent's applicant is the marketing director ... so ... perhaps he just didn't know that what he saw in that field was not terribly uncommon ;-)

cindy murphy
2/9/2009 10:39:42 AM

But, but, but....I still don't understand how the patent office, (or whoever is in control of such things), can even consider granting a patent for a particular gene, trait, or characteristic, as opposed to a cultivated hyrid that displays that trait. It's like the longtime and never-ending quest for the elusive blue rose, yes? Rose company breeders as well as independent breeders have been trying forever to develop a true-blue rose hybrid. As a result, we have many purple, blackish-blue, and lavender rose hybrids - all of which are patented. But nobody, (to my knowledge), has ever tried to patent the plant genes that produce blue pigment. This is just too weird for me to comprehend. I can't find anything in the terms for obtaining plant patents where it states that a breeder has claim to specific traits of a plant as opposed to a discovered or bred plant which specifically displays those traits.

hank will_2
2/9/2009 8:22:20 AM

Hey All -- It is customary to patent special hybrid lines or crosses (done with roses, iris, day lilies,African violets, etc) or vegetatively propagated "sports." It is also customary to patent genetically engineered seeds. I don't have issue with Siegers trying to protect their own Freaky pumpkin and gourd lines. But, the gene for warts has been around forever, and I think, since they are working with a series of selections, they are afraid that other seed companies can come up with additional warty pumpkins in relatively short order. The problem for me is that they propose this all encompassing patent where they would have royalty rights to my personal patch if more than 10% of the pumpkins had warts. Since I am a geneticist by training I just might be dinking around with pumpkin warts, and they could theoretically sue me if they caught me selling them ... or seed from them. They are smart though because it isn't uncommon for these kinds of patent issues to spend 10 years in the settling ... meanwhile they have the patent pending rights, which are almost as good as owning the patent because if the patent does go through any "violators" will have to pay. Owning exclusive rights to warts would be like me claiming something like red corn. It's been around forever, but ....

nebraska dave
2/8/2009 7:35:08 PM

If anyone is interested the actual patent application from the government patent site is as follows: The inventor Roy MMurdock states in the summary and I quote "To the best of Applicant's knowledge, while blemished pumpkins do appear to occur naturally, they only occur at a very low frequency in occasional pumpkin populations and variety. In such occurrences, the blemishes on the shell of the pumpkin appear to be very small, smooth, and infrequent, such as is depicted in FIG. 1. " end of quote. Farther down in the description he talks about how in 2002 a pumpkin was found with an unual number of warts. In 2003 starting with 100 seeds blah blah blah blah and 2004 more blah blah blah and 2005 all the way up to 2008. All this jubberish of course contains the hither to, there with, and hence forth phrases of legalize. As much as I can gather, they have indeed developed and perfected a pumpkin with sustainable high level of warts on the pumpkins, but to say they every pumpkin that has a wart on it falls under their patent? I don't think so. The letter they sent to the Rupp Seed company is way out of line in my opinion.

cindy murphy
2/8/2009 5:41:26 PM

I don't know much about how patents work, but it's commonplace for seed varieties to be patented, yes? If a company develops a new variety through hybridization, the resulting hybrid or cultivar is usually patented, I'm assuming....such as Seigers' "SuperFreak" warted pumpkin. I think the controversy applies to Seigers' patent application to own the rights to ALL warts on pumpkins, regardless if its their hybrid of warted pumpkins, another company's, or those anomalies that just occur by chance, (although I can't see how the latter could be enforced - who is going to patrol the farm markets for the odd wart here or there on every pumpkin?). The propagation of, and or the sale of plant parts, (ie - root cuttings, seeds, tissue cultures), is prohibited without license from the company holding the pending patent - I know that from my nursery experience. Patented, or patent pending plants must include a patent or trademark tag to be sold. But I really can't understand how a company can own a naturally occuring trait, or attempt to strong-arm other companies to keep them from developing that trait into additional cultivars. It sounds so very, very wrong, and that's what Seigers seems to be doing in its letter to Rupp.

teresa sue hoke-house
2/8/2009 3:09:59 PM

This is another greedy atempt to "own" nature. This is not something that this seed co. developed, but just a grab for profits. American's need to be aware of the very sinister movement of companies to control our seeds, thus controlling our food supply.

nebraska dave
2/8/2009 8:04:12 AM

This is just ludicrous that anyone could believe they would be given a patent for seeds that have been around for hundreds of years. Now if the Seiger company had developed a gentically different plant and wanted to patent the newly developed seeds, I could see that. I will be greatly disappointed in our patent office if this indeed happens. I can't believe that this would be good publicity for the Seiger company.

robyn dolan
2/7/2009 8:28:34 AM

Patenting seeds?! Are you kidding me? Maybe we could patent Jersey/dexter cross cream cheese, or Arizona volcanic ash dirt, or, or...well water.