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The Profit of the EarthThe Global Seeds of American Agriculture$
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Courtney Fullilove

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226454863

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226455051.001.0001

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Seed Sharing in the Patent Office

Seed Sharing in the Patent Office

(p.44) 2: Seed Sharing in the Patent Office
The Profit of the Earth

Courtney Fullilove

University of Chicago Press

This chapter analyzes the seed collection and distribution program of the US Patent Office Agricultural Department, which was absorbed into the new, autonomous US Department of Agriculture in 1862. Perhaps ironically, a temple to private property rights in invention adopted a model of public research and free circulation of specimens that persisted in the autonomous USDA. The narrow construction of debates over the seed program according to the interests of American farmers, horticulturalists, and seed companies ultimately obscured more fundamental and longstanding inequities in the collection and distribution of global resources. Although economies of sharing were divisive, they were fundamentally nationalist, regarding global nature as a reservoir to be tapped for national development. The Patent Office’s seed program thus shaped a culture of public research that denied of global politics of plant collection, laying the foundation for lopsided legal and scientific narratives of agricultural innovation that elevated the claims of researchers over farmers.

Keywords:   United States Department of Agriculture, patent office, Henry Ellsworth, Daniel Lee, Daniel J. Browne, botany, horticulture, agriculture, commons, USDA

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