Recently, the SPC concluded and issued a case involving trade secrets of breeding materials, and the judgment clarified the conditions and significance of protecting corn inbred parents as trade secrets, which is of typical significance for protecting breeding results by comprehensively using various intellectual property protection means such as new plant variety rights and trade secrets, effectively stimulating original and continuous innovation in breeding, and building a diversified and three-dimensional comprehensive legal protection system for crop breeding results.

The plaintiff (appellee) in this case is the right holder of a new corn variety "Wannuo 2000", and the variety "W68" involved in this case is a stable inbred variety formed after six generations of selfing, and is the parent of the authorized hybrid variety "Wannuo 2000". The plaintiff protected "W68" in the form of technical secrets, held that the defendant's (appellant's) use of the technical information about "W68" in its production and business activities constituted infringement, and filed a lawsuit asking the defendant to bear infringement liability and compensate for economic losses and reasonable expenses incurred for rights protection. The court of first instance ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and then the defendant appealed to the SPC.

During the second instance, an in-depth analysis was made on the difficult issues in the application of law, such as whether the parents of hybrid species are objects of trade secret protection, and the conditions for protecting breeding materials as trade secrets. In the second-instance judgement, the SPC held that "breeding intermediate materials, inbred parents, etc. formed in the process of crop breeding are different from plant materials found in the nature, but are intellectual fruits of creative labor paid by breeders, and carry specific genes formed by breeders through selectively domesticating plant materials from the nature or selecting traits of existing varieties. The breeding materials involved in this case have the characteristics of both technical information and physical carriers, and the two are inseparable. Breeding materials that are of commercial value and obtained through breeding innovation activities may be legally protected as trade secrets under the condition that they are not known to the public and corresponding confidentiality measures are taken. The confidentiality measures for the breeding materials protected as trade secrets cannot be too harsh, since the growth of breeding materials depends on soil, moisture, air and sunlight and also requires field management, which makes it difficult for the right holder to take foolproof confidentiality measures for the crop materials. To determine whether the confidentiality measures are reasonable, it is necessary to consider the characteristics of the breeding materials per se, and it would be appropriate to take confidentiality measures to a degree that the breeding materials are prevented from being leaked under normal circumstances. Establishing a confidentiality system, signing a confidentiality agreement, prohibiting external spreading, using pronouns for propagating materials, etc., may all constitute reasonable confidentiality measures in specific circumstances". After review, the SPC held that "W68" has commercial value and competitive advantage in combining hybrid varieties with excellent agronomic traits and good seed yield, and that it meets the conditions of not being known to the public and being subject to corresponding confidentiality measures taken by the right holder, so it can be protected as a trade secret by the Anti-Unfair Competition Law. Therefore, the second-instance judgment dismissed the appeal and upheld the original judgment.

Through this case, the SPC particularly emphasized that there are differences between the two systems of new plant varieties and trade secrets in terms of the way rights are generated, the conditions for protection, and the scope of protection, etc., and right holders can choose different protection methods according to the actual situation. Breeding innovation results that have not obtained the protection of new plant varieties should be given protection against unfair competition under the condition that they comply with the provisions on trade secrets. This is not only an inevitable requirement for encouraging breeding innovation, but also the intent of strengthening intellectual property rights protection. The laws do not stipulate that crop breeding materials can only be protected by new plant variety rights and cannot be protected as trade secrets or by other intellectual property rights. Granting other intellectual property protections such as trade secret protection to crop breeding materials will not weaken the legal protection system of new plant varieties, but instead they will complement each other.

Details of this case may be found at the following link:

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