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.
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 Google+.