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The Open Source Seed Initiative seeks to make seeds perpetually available without the danger of them being patented, and thus guarding against the takeover of our seed stock by corporations.

Today, only three companies (Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta) account for about half of all commercial seed sales. Increasingly, patenting is used to enhance the power and control of these and similar companies over the seeds that feed the world.

Inspired by the free and open source software movement that has provided alternatives to proprietary software, OSSI was created to free the seed – that is, to make sure that the genes in at least some seed can never be locked away from use by intellectual property rights.

The most distinguishing aspect of OSSI is the idea that genetic resources – in the form of seeds- are  set aside for humanity to use in any way it sees fit. By attaching a free seed pledge to packets of open source seed, these genetic resources cannot be patented or otherwise legally protected, making them essentially available in perpetuity in a protected commons. If they were available only in a traditional commons, people could obtain them, breed with them, and restrict their use through patents or licenses. But in this commons they must remain free. Hence the phrase “Free the Seed!”

The Open Source Pledge, which is attached to seeds reads as follows –

“This Open Source Seed pledge is intended to ensure your freedom to use the seed contained herein in any way you choose, and to make sure those freedoms are enjoyed by all subsequent users. By opening this packet, you pledge that you will not restrict others’ use of these seeds and their derivatives by patents, licenses, or any other means. You pledge that if you transfer these seeds or their derivatives they will also be accompanied by this pledge.”