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Veggie Tales: Pernicious Myths About Patents, Innovation, and Crop Diversity in the Twentieth Century


Paul J. Heald


University of Illinois College of Law

Susannah Chapman


University of Georgia Department of Anthropology

September 16, 2011

Illinois Program in Law, Behavior and Social Science Paper No. LBSS11-34
Illinois Public Law Research Paper No. 11-03

Abstract:     
The conventional wisdom, as illustrated for millions of readers in the July 2011 issue of National Geographic, holds that the twentieth century was a disaster for crop diversity. In the popular press, this position is so entrenched that it no longer needs a citation. We conduct a study of all vegetable and apple varieties commercially available in 1903 and compare them with all varieties commercially available in 1981 and 2004. We question the conventional wisdom and cast serious doubt on the 1983 study that previous commentators have taken as gospel. We also enter the debate between economists and social scientists on the role that patent law might play in destroying or enhancing crop diversity. Both sides may be wrong. Our data suggest that patent law has not reduced crop diversity, nor has it likely significantly contributed to the introduction of new vegetable varieties. The diversity loss thesis espoused by ethnobotanists is as suspect as the incentive-to-invent story told by patent economists, at least as regards the most common vegetable crops. Finally, we provide one of the first analyses of innovation in any comprehensive technology market by identifying the source of all products in the market and current commercialization rates for all patented innovations. This paper goes significantly beyond our prior three related postings of preliminary data.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 64

Keywords: patents, crop diversity, vegetables, corn, apples, RAFI, Fowler, commercialization, varieties

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Date posted: September 17, 2011 ; Last revised: November 17, 2011

Suggested Citation

Heald, Paul J. and Chapman, Susannah, Veggie Tales: Pernicious Myths About Patents, Innovation, and Crop Diversity in the Twentieth Century (September 16, 2011). Illinois Program in Law, Behavior and Social Science Paper No. LBSS11-34; Illinois Public Law Research Paper No. 11-03. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1928920 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1928920

Contact Information

Paul J. Heald (Contact Author)
University of Illinois College of Law ( email )
504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States
706-372-2567 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.illinois.edu/faculty/profile/PaulHeald

Susannah Chapman
University of Georgia Department of Anthropology ( email )
250A Baldwin Hall
Department of Anthropology
Athens, GA 30602
United States
706-542-3922 (Phone)
706-542-3998 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.uga.edu/anthro
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