PBR and ‘Qualified Person’ Leanne Gillies

By Gabrielle Stannus

Thinking about applying for protection for your new variety under the Plant Breeder’s Rights (PBR) Act? We speak to Leanne Gillies from Fleming’s Nurseries to find out more about what the role of a Qualified Person in the PBR process entails.

The Plant Breeder’s Rights (PBR) Act protects the rights of the plant breeder in the commercialisation of new plant varieties (see story in August National Nursery News). Every application that Intellectual Property (IP) Australia receives for protection under the PBR Act must include a nominated Qualified Person who will be responsible for administering that trial or maintaining that trial and must certify, verify and supervise the whole running of the trial.

Nik Hulse, Chief of Plant Breeder’s Rights, IP Australia explains, “we have a process where we vet them and make sure that they are suitably qualified. We do not pay them; they pay us a small fee to seek accreditation. Once they have become accredited, they are then able to run trials for crops that are covered by their accreditation. So, you might have a qualified person who works in agriculture with just wheat varieties, so they could, they could only run trials for wheat varieties. And then you get others for roses and so on.”

Whilst many businesses choose to engage a consultant Qualified Person to oversee their comparative trials, some choose to accredit their own staff as Qualified Persons, keeping the expertise in-house. One such business is Fleming’s Nurseries, wholesale growers of fruit, ornamental, deciduous, evergreen and native Australian trees and shrubs. Leanne Gillies is a Research and Innovation Manager at Fleming’s Nurseries and its PBR Qualified Person.

Leanne Gillies, Qualified Person

“Fleming’s regularly work with breeders to obtain PBR protection for new plants, so we have always had at least one in-house Qualified Person,” says Leanne, “This has been part of my role for several years now. Becoming a Qualified Person is a straight-forward process of registering with the PBR office (IP Australia) and demonstrating expertise and knowledge in the product range that you are wanting to represent.”

Leanne is well-qualified to take on this position, having completed a science degree and a post graduate course in horticulture at the University of Melbourne. In her 25 years with Flemings Nurseries, Leanne has worked in a broad range of roles, from propagation through to project management, including Fleming’s show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show, London. “New products are a very important part of what I do today, whether that’s importing a new plant from overseas, working with breeders in Australia or making our own selections within the nursery,” says Leanne.

“As a Qualified Person, it is my role to firstly identify the varieties that are most like the new plant. I then need to establish trials to demonstrate how the new plant is different to the plants that are most similar. The aim is to establish that the new plant is distinct from to all other plants that are available and therefore is genuinely a new plant. These trials also need to show that all propagation of the new plants results in uniform plants without any off-types. We also need to demonstrate that the characteristics of the plant are stable between generations. Distinct, Uniform and Stable are the three qualities that must be demonstrated by the Qualified Person for PBR to be granted,” Leanne continues.

“The types of trials that are required and the time it takes varies greatly depending on the plant that you are working with, says Leanne, “For example, if we have a new pear tree that produces pink flowers, when all other pears produce white flowers, the trial can be completed in a year or two. On the other hand, if we have a pear tree that at maturity is much narrower than any other pear tree, we need to grow the trial for long enough to show that there is a difference at maturity. Trials are very specific to both the plant you are working with and the difference/s that need to be demonstrated.”

Plant Breeder’s Rights Consultation Group

For the last couple of years, Leanne has also been part of the Plant Breeder’s Rights Consultation Group as a Qualified Person. This group brings together representatives of all parties with an interest in PBR in Australia. Meetings are held a few times a year and provide a great opportunity to learn of international developments in PBR and how this may impact Australia as well as staying up to date with legislation within Australia. The group is also called upon to provide feedback on any proposed changes to PBR legislation.
“This is the forum for raising suggested changes and any issues that we are experiencing. There are two Qualified Persons in this group. However, I think what I offer is unique, in that I am also able to offer a production nursery perspective, as well as some insights from the breeders that I work with. This group plays an important role in ensuring that PBR remains a strong and relevant program for the future of the horticulture industry, so I see being involved as giving a bit back to the industry,” says Leanne of her involvement in this group .

“Within the industry there is currently a lot of talk about climate change and how important future climate ready plants are becoming,” says Leanne, “The way I see it, plant breeding is more important than it has ever been, so we need to be doing all we can to ensure that breeders receive a fair reward for the work that they do. PBR is the single most important tool in protecting the interests of the breeders. We all need to embrace it.”