S4:E4 | 4.30.2020

Who Owns Nature?

The Plant Patent Act of 1930 was designed to protect inventions from “The Wizard of Horticulture,” Luther Burbank. But would the law encourage innovation in the plant breeding profession, or stifle it?

About this Episode

The Plant Patent Act of 1930 is cited in a landmark Supreme Court case that extended patent rights to genetically engineered plants, animals, and bacteria. But it all started with Luther Burbank, aka the “Wizard of Horticulture.” Burbank rose to fame in the early 20th century for his plant inventions like the Russet Burbank Potato. But, unlike his friends Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, Burbank was never able to patent his creations. After Burbank’s death, his supporters would push a controversial bill through Congress legalizing patents on plants. But have these laws had unintended consequences in the modern age?

About the Reporter

Zach Dyer is an independent reporter and audio producer living in St. Louis. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, and 99% Invisible, among other outlets. Zach is a proud alumnus of the Transom Story Workshop and The Tico Times.

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