The proposed granting of patents for new horticultural varieties is meeting with some opposition. The Evening Post, in an answer to a correspondent upon the subject, arrays itself with the opposers of the measure. This correspondent, who signs himself " Presidium," gives some quite valid reasons for granting such patents. The Post, in its editorial, in discussing the subject, restates these reasons in a very uncandid manner. It says: " * Presidium ' presents three reasons for patenting garden products. First, because the author of a book has a copyright, and the inventor of a machine may obtain a patent, therefore the owner of a garden in which any plant may grow which he considers new, ought to have the exclusive right to cultivate that plant." This, after the previous remark, that " respect for the very worthy gentlemen who have devised and now support the plan, demands that both Congress and the public shall give their case a candid hearing/' surprises us somewhat. What is claimed by Presidium and all others who favor the granting of horticultural patents, is not that because copyrights are granted to authors, and patent rights to inventors of machinery and devisers of new chemical processes, they should also be granted to cultivators of new varieties without regard to the merits of the case. They claim, what the Post grants in a subsequent paragraph, that "it is true that the work of the gardener is often of a highly intellectual and scientific character. His selection of varieties for a cross, his devices in the treatment of his plants, with reference to soil, temperature, and all the varied circumstances of culture ; his ready discernment of valuable modifications of every kind, and his ability to develop and strengthen them; all these require powers of a high order powers which deserve a rich reward." Is the Post ignorant that new varieties of value are more rarely produced by accident than are mechanical improvements ? If so, let it study awhile the works of Darwin or Randall, and post itself in the mysteries of reproduction. It says the intellectual labor of the horticulturist, is analogous to that of the scientific investigator and discoverer, rather than to that of the practical inventor and producer. It was rather hard on the " analogies," which it characterizes as " Presidium's stronghold," but it sees none between the work of the inventor and that of the scientific investigator. Evidently the Post's highest idea of an inventor is a man who whittles until he, by accident, gets'Tiis stick into a shape that suggests a possibility, and having got the idea of the possibility goes through a series of tinkering till he gets, if not what he sought, something that can be patented. Its idea of the production of new varieties is scarcely better, being, as near as we can infer from the article in question, that they can be obtained, ad libitum, by accident. Now any man who has grown up among flowers and fruits, and is aquainted with the laws of their growth, knows better than this. He knows also that within certain limits, judicious selection will enable him to approximate to a type previously determined upon, notwithstanding the Post's dictum to the contrary, and that it is as Presidium claims, " a complete and exclusive expression of his inventive thought." We have already expressed our opinion upon the desirability and practicability of granting such patents, and although our esteemed cotemporary deems it as absurd as would be the issuing of patents " upon mathematical processes, upon chemical affinities, upon new planets discovered by astronomers, or upon new laws of life announced by physiologists," we fail to see any grounds for so considering it. Indeed, if mathematical processes, new plants, or new laws of life, could be made to pecuniarily reward their discoverers, by the granting of patents upon them, we should be glad to see their labors thus recognized.
This article was originally published with the title "Horticultural Protection" in Scientific American 20, 14, 217 (April 1869)