North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple signed into law Senate Bill 2261, which among other amendments increases the maximum fine for a violation of seed intellectual property protection laws from $5,000 to $10,000, making it the highest state enforcement penalty in the United States.

"Intellectual property protection is important to agriculture, just as it is to any other sectors of the economy," says Ken Bertsch, North Dakota seed commissioner. "An effective deterrent to violating the rights of seed variety owners also is important. Agriculture has changed immensely through the past decades. Input costs, including seed costs, have increased at very high rates. However, seed probably is the only input where the use of a pirated product actually can occur."

Introduced by State Senator Terry Wanzek on behalf of the North Dakota State Seed Department, the legislation also clarifies existing language requiring cover crops to be properly tested and labeled. Additionally, the bill increases the penalties for piracy, or "brownbagging," of protected seed varieties.

The maximum penalty is levied in North Dakota only in cases of violation of the Plant Variety Protection (PVP), Title V option. PVP Title V requires that seed be sold only as a class of certified seed (Foundation, Registered or Certified).

Variety owners can be public institutions such as North Dakota State University, South Dakota State University, Montana State or the University of Minnesota. Owners also may be private seed companies that devote millions of dollars to plant breeding. Both types of entities are dependent on the legal transfer of seed through proper certification, labeling and sales to generate income that furthers research into the development of new and improved varieties of seed.

"It's impossible to estimate how much brownbagging of seed takes place or how much income is lost to variety owners, seedsmen and retailers," Bertsch says. "What is not in question is that each time it happens, it costs all parties. The only effective deterrent to seed piracy is to increase the risk of illegally selling or otherwise transferring a protected variety."

The legislation is supported by the North Dakota Crop Improvement Association, North Dakota Agricultural Association and the American Seed Trade Association.