This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In discussing the probable result of a horticultural copyright law upon the sale of inferior sorts, we must, of course, consider its permanent rather than its immediate effect. It may be true that while the system is new, and the public are unacquainted with its nature, some ignorant people may be led to believe that the fact that a variety has a copyrighted name is an additional reason for purchasing specimens of it; but it is difficult to conceive that on the start such people can be humbugged any more than they now are; and as even this class now understand that a plow or other implement is no better because it is patented, it cannot be doubted that they will soon learn that the same is true of a tree or plant upon which a copyrighted name is claimed.
What is necessary to protect people from inferior varieties is familiarity with the claims of good sorts; and if we place those having good sorts to offer in a position where they will be reasonably certain of a fair return for so doing they will not hesitate to incur the expense of familiarizing people with the merits of these varieties. Under the proposed law, a nurseryman holding a copyright upon the name of a good sort would see that all trade for it which could be developed under that name would come to him, and that no such advantage could accrue to the advertiser of it under any other name Hence he would exhibit its products and adver tise its name and qualities in other ways so thoroughly that they would become familiar to every household in the land. The holder of the name of a poor sort could not afford to pursue this course, because every time it was brought in comparison with better varieties its reputation would suffer; and yet this method of developing a demand for a variety would become, in a greater or less degree, a necessity of the trade. Hence it would become necessary to know that a variety is good before increasing the expense of placing it on the market.
Mere novelty would cease to attract attention, and the returns from pressing poor varieties would become so unremunerative that the number of these which would pass beyond the crucial stage of testing, and be brought to the attention of the general public, would be proportionately much less than it now is.
If any one questions the correctness of this conclusion, let him calculate the chances of profit he would have in introducing to the public a dictionary or sewing machine wanting in real merit, in competition with "Webster's" or the "Singer" on the grounds that his book or machine is novel in its arrangement, and cannot be had of other publishers or manufacturers. He will then be enabled to determine, in great degree, whether the proposed law would retard or quicken the sale of"Utah Hybrid" cherry, "Vermont Seedling" peach,"Tree Alpine" strawberry, and other mythical or worthless varieties which are now sold in large numbers to even intelligent farmers who are not familiar with their merits.
Under existing conditions a man does not really press the sale of any variety of trees, plants, or seeds beyond the stage of its novelty, because people learn to know it by its name wherefor the expense of so doing would inure largely to the benefit of less enterprising dealers, who also offer it by this name - genuine or spurious. At that point it must give way to a leader hitherto unknown; and the period during which a leader can be successfully pressed as such, is so limited that it becomes comparatively unimportant whether or not the article possesses actual merits. As illustrating this point, let me say that an intelligent nurseryman who has successfully introduced a variety which he believes to be superior, all things considered, to any of its species going before it, and has brought it to a point where others are now producing it to a limited extent, and a still larger number supplying spurious specimens, recently informed one that he already saw the importance of getting a movelty in the same species, not because he can hope to get a better sort, but for the reason that he cannot much longer expect to retain the benefits of his advertising of this, and because he must hereafter sell his genuine goods in competition with the spurious specimens referred to.
Surely this indicates a vicious state of trade; and yet it is everyday experience.
1 have now shown as clearly 1 as can, without unduly trespassing upon your columns, the nature of and necessity for the proposed law; that it differs radically from, and is not open to any •of the serious objections which may be raised against a horticultural patent law; that in all essential particulars it is analogous in principle to the law of trade-marks, which have their foundation in natural equity, and have been recognized and protected in all civilized countries for ages; that while it would prove a stumbling block to rogues, it could not create monopolies, and would not introduce anomalies into the laws •or interfere with the rights of anybody; that it would lessen frauds now glaringly prevalent, which from their nature, the circumstances un-•der which they are committed, and the period which must elapse before their discovery, cannot be reached directly, and by elevating horticultural trades in public esteem inure to the benefit of every honest member of those trades; that it would encourage the origination and introduction of new and improved varieties, and lessen the sale of inferior sorts; that it would weaken existing prejudices and stimulate many to take increased interest in the growth of fruits and flowers.
If my discussion of the subject has been full, and my arguments sound, the measure would be productive of great good. I may be mistaken; but having clearly set forth the grounds of my opinion, and made at least a good prima facie, case, unprejudiced people will not believe the measure unwise or impracticable unless its opponents, if any. point out specifically wherein it will fail, and demonstrate the correctness of their assertions. If my reasoning has been fallacious in essential particulars, or if I have omitted to answer vital objections to the proposed law, surely some of your many readers will have discovered it, and be able to point out wherein I am at fault. In view of the importance of the subject, I trust that some one will not hesitate to do this regardless of the consequences to any argument. At the same time I would remind such as may require it, that as the proposed law does not resemble the patent system in any respect, it will not answer here to set up that as a target, and proceed to ridicule it, as some have done.
I have several times invited opposition. I would have been glad to have encountered it at an earlier stage of the discussion. Thus far I am without an adversary; but I am not willing to believe that the opponents of this measure, if any, will permit the public to enter judgment against them pro confesso, as the lawyers say.