Dr. Dale Hunt is a plant scientist, a Cannabis lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney with over 20 years of experience protecting plant varieties in the United States and throughout the world. Dale is the founder of Plant & Planet Law Firm www.PlantAndPlanet.com, an Intellectual Property Law practice, where he provides guidance and expertise on patents and IP matters, and aids clients in establishing IP protection for their legal marijuana cultivars, products and businesses. Before he began working in the legal Cannabis industry, Dale worked with other clients in Agriculture, Water Purification, Alternative Energies, Biotechnology, and Medicine, and he helped many of his clients commercialize their IP, products and plant varieties internationally. Through Plant & Planet Law Firm he and his team continue to service these clients in addition to their Cannabis clients. Dale has degrees in botany (BS), plant genetics (MS) molecular & cellular biology (PhD), and law (JD).
Dale has spoken on Cannabis-related topics at several gatherings including the Marijuana Business Convention, the Emerald Cup, the National Meeting of the Association of University Technology Managers, the Meadowlands Leadership Summit, and the San Diego chapters of the MIT Enterprise Forum, and Licensing Executives Society. He has also been interviewed for and quoted in numerous news articles and by national media outlets on the topic of marijuana and patenting. Dale maintains a blog for plant breeders and others interested in the plant law at www.PlantLaw.com, and also provides weekly updates of essentially all Cannabis-related patents and published patent applications from the US, Canada, and the International Patent Cooperation Treaty, from the 1940s to the most recent publications, at www.MJPatentsWeekly.com.
Why would someone copyright a cannabis strain? CBD School’s Jenn Procacci talks with Dr. Dale Hunt, founder of Breeder’s Best, plant scientist, and patent attorney, about intellectual property protection for independent cannabis breeders. Breeders Best is the first cannabis company to focus on developing intellectual property, otherwise known as IP protection, for independent cannabis plant breeders. Establishing intellectual property protection enables licensing opportunities and a whole new business model for cannabis scientists.
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Jenn Procacci – Host, CBD School Podcast
Dr. Dale Hunt – Founder, Breeder’s Best
All right. Hello, this is CBD School and I’m your host, Jenn Procacci. Today I’m going to be joined by Dr. Dale Hunt. He is the founder and CEO of Breeder’s Best and founder and senior attorney at Plant & Planet Law Firm. So Breeder’s Best is the first cannabis company to focus on developing intellectual property otherwise known as IP protection for independent plant breeders and licensing that provides diverse and unique IP to markets worldwide. Breeder’s Best benefits breeders, patients, growers, investors and many other stakeholders by delivering genetics with many of the lesser known and rare cannabinoids as well as desirable combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes. These special varieties are developed through traditional breeding techniques that achieve specific target chemical profiles and premium commercial products. So Dr. Hunt is with me here on the line. Thank you so much for joining us today. How are you doing?
I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.
Thanks for taking the time to be here. I’d love to start our time today by asking you something I asked all of my guests, which is what is your personal relationship with cannabis?
Oh, that’s a fun place to start. My first real exposure to it was that I had a friend in high school that smoked a lot and we used to go to concerts. And I was the Mormon kid that didn’t touch any of that stuff. And I was his designated driver. So we would be in that setting and I would get all kinds of exposure and never actually tried it. Then much later in life, I had the opportunity to, I guess, change my rules change my life. And soon after that, I also got an invitation to begin to work in the cannabis industry by being an advisor to the Open Cannabis Project. They were extensively at least trying to address issues of international as well as US intellectual property protection on cannabis and its impact on ordinary people. And they wanted a legal adviser to help them navigate that. So since then, that was about seven years ago, since then, I’ve become more and more involved to the point of leaving my partnership and a law firm to start my own firm, which does a lot of different things, but has a very heavy emphasis on cannabis.
Fantastic. Thank you for sharing that with me. I’m always interested to see how cannabis has taken people on a journey. And it certainly sounds like it’s had a significant impact on your professional and personal journey. I’d like to talk a lot today about plant patents and what Breeder’s Best offers for readers and everybody in the cannabis supply chain. So would you describe for our listeners who may not know what exactly a plant patent is?
Sure. And this goes back to the days of — many people, especially people who are into plant breeding, have heard of Luther Burbank. He was kind of the original, highly prolific plant breeder. And he originated all kinds of different varieties of numerous fruits and vegetables. And there was a lot of value that was being generated by that, but there was no real effective way to protect his work. And for that reason, and I’m sure several other reasons, Congress passed the Plant Patent Act back in the 1930s, which established a special form of protection for certain plant varieties as long as they’re asexually propagated, which in cannabis speak means as long as they’re cloned. It does not extend to seeds. But there’s a different form of protection offered by the USDA that does extend to seeds. And then there’s yet another kind of protection available through the US Patent and Trademark Office that also extends to seeds. But historically, plant patents were meant to just protect the individual genetic selection that somebody wanted to propagate asexually. And in that way, it would always be uniform and it would be stable.
And it’s an interesting kind of protection. It usually is granted faster than a regular patent. It has the same term of 20 years from the filing date. It’s a little bit less expensive to get than a regular patent, but it’s narrow. I explained to people a lot actually that a plant patent is a little bit like a copyright on a plant variety. So, you know, we know that creative people, if they make music or art or if they’re photographers or they write a book, there’s automatic copyright protection that exists as soon as they make that creation. But there’s no analogous kind of protection available for plant breeders even though they do tremendously important creative work. And the closest thing you get to it is a plant patent which is only infringed by making direct copies. You can make something that’s a lot like it. If it’s not a direct copy, it does not infringe a plant patent. Now there are some broader forms of protection that are available. But to infringe a plant patent, you have to make a clonal copy.
One other comment about that is I think some people are pretty alarmed that people might want to be patenting cannabis. And I respect that. I understand.I hear that a lot, too. I respect that. Because for many people, cannabis is not just a wonderful plant, but they have a really sacred kind of relationship with it. And it just feels wrong to patent it. And my answer to that is, first of all, I respect that. I would never try to talk someone into patenting something they didn’t want, didn’t think they should patent or didn’t think should be patented. But the way I look at it is that this is the only way for a plant breeder to have rights over their creative work that are analogous to copyrights. And as we all know, all you need is one little cut of the right material from a plant and you can make an unlimited number of copies. And so if you don’t have some kind of protection then you’ve got to have very tight control over access to the plants. So long answer to a simple question. But I think it really is an important opportunity for plant breeders to protect their creative work and be able to put it out there without losing complete control over it in one generation.
Thank you for sharing that information. That was a very helpful explanation of plant patents. And I appreciate you addressing the spiritual relationship many people have with cannabis. I’m a cultivator myself up here in Mendocino. And I have felt a little funny about the concept of patenting cannabis myself. So it was very helpful to hear your explanation. I’m interested. As an attorney, have you worked on any cases that involved plant patents or like specifically cannabis plant patents?
Yeah, actually, I have. There’s a breeder up there, who’s your neighbor in Mendocino County, who I’ve worked with since just after founding this law firm. We filed patents on some of his work. And I’m happy to say that those have been allowed and they’re just about to be issued. So he’s been breeding for a long time to try to make some special kinds of cannabis that just aren’t available. And yeah, they’re really not available in the form that he’s developed. And he wants to share it with the world. But he also doesn’t want his entire life’s work to go out there and never help him pay for all the time that he’s devoted to this. So that’s one example. We filed a lot of patent applications for a lot of clients. But this is one where there’s a real personal connection with the breeder. This really is his life’s work and his passion. And it’s exciting that we’re soon going to be seeing three new cannabis patents issued for him and his company and his efforts.
Wonderful. And is that through Breeder’s Best?
That’s actually through my law firm, Plant & Planet Law Firm. The reason I started Breeder’s Best is because the law firm focuses on just providing the legal services to help people protect their intellectual property or to make a license deal. But I had a lot of breeders that approached me and said, “I’ve got something special, I want to protect it.” But as we started talking to them about, you know, the steps and the cost, it was pretty clear that they didn’t necessarily have good opportunities to do something commercial with their variety once they protected it.
And one thing that I learned is, when I was a new patent attorney, I was in a meeting with a new client and like, the senior guy was explaining to the client, he said, “it’s easy enough to get you a patent. But when you have a patent, it doesn’t just rain money. you’ve got to find a way to use that patent so that it’ll pay for itself and to support a business.” And so as I talked with a lot of breeders that really either didn’t have the business opportunities or weren’t particularly interested in running a business, but they did have something special and they wanted to protect it and they wanted the world to be able to enjoy it, it became clear to me that there was a point at which the law firm wasn’t the right way to help them. And that there needed to be a company that would not just enable them to make deals, but would go find the deals for them and help them find the right markets, the right partners in different places in California or potentially around the world that would want access to their genetics and would be willing to pay for it. So that when we help them protect the IP, there’s also a way to do IP licensing so that the reader can enjoy some revenue.
That’s really the reason I started Breeder’s Best. You know, if you ask a lawyer a simple question, you might get a long answer. To come back to your simple question, he may end up working with Breeder’s Best. He’s a pretty independent guy, and I really respect his independence and he’s looking at all of his opportunities. So we’re working with him in the context of the law firm to get this protection and then we’ll be thrilled with him however he chooses to commercialize it. It may be through Breeder’s Best or it might not be
Fascinating. Thank you for explaining that. And it leads me to my next question for you, which is, what types of folks in the cannabis industry does Breeder’s Best work with? Such as the breeder you described, would you say he is a pretty large-scale breeder or is he more of the small scale, like legacy Mendocino type cultivator?
He’s definitely a legacy Mendocino guy way up a dirt road, behind a couple of fences. He’s just passionate about the plant and has a long, long connection with it. I would say most of the breeders that we work with are like that. They are independent people who either have a relatively small business, or in some cases, no real business at all. They’re just individuals. And what they want to do is breed the plant, and they would like somebody else to help them make the deals and turn it into revenues. And also just get it out there for people to enjoy and use.
At the other end of the spectrum, though, you know, from the many individual independent plant breeders we work with, we have been kind of surprised to be approached by some people who are already quite well established. People who’ve won or placed in Emerald Cup and who already have a name and a reputation and a license. And we’re really pleased and gratified that they’re also interested in working with us. I think what they recognize is that even if you’ve got a successful California business or a successful business in some other state, there’s a lot to be said for working with somebody who has done plant licensing deals all over the world. And that’s something I’ve done in my career as an attorney. And then there’s also a lot to be said for working with our team. Because I’m sure you know, and I’m happy to tell your listeners, it’s not just me. This company has very well respected and beloved Dr. Ethan Russo as our Medical Director and Robert Clarke, the author of the seminal books on cannabis evolution and the interactions between humans and cannabis, is our Director of Botany and Genetics. And we’ve got some other real tremendous people on the team. And so our goal and our belief is that anybody, any breeder, from individual independent breeder with no interest in business or no business access, or experience, all the way up to a very successful business that still wants to be able to leverage this team and our capabilities to getting their cannabis into markets all over the world, we would hope that we can be a good resource for anybody else across that spectrum.
That’s awesome. Thank you for offering all those details. I wanted to ask you about, sort of a specific real life scenario that popped into my mind when you were describing that. And I wanted to use my own farm as an example here. I have a 5000-square-foot permitted full-term outdoor farm here in Mendocino County. And we grow a lot of our own genetics and we did place in the Emerald Cup, but I would definitely consider us to still be growing our business. We’re still starting out. What kind of services could Breeder’s Best offer to a farm like mine?
Let’s suppose you had one or two really special varieties that you thought there might be demand for for a long time in a lot of places and maybe you’ve got even more than that. But even if you just had one that you thought was really special, let’s suppose it’s the one that has already won Emerald Cup or placed in Emerald Cup, and that you believe that there’s a real market for that. You would like to be able to make some licensed deals, but you don’t want anyone to, you know, you don’t want to deal with all the legal work, you don’t want to pay a lawyer, et cetera.
The way Breeder’s Best works is if we have a place on our website where people can make a submission. They can tell us about their variety that they are interested in possibly submitting to us. And then once we agree to work with them, we file for patent protection at the expense of the company. That’s done by my law firm. So there’s no expense to the breeder. We put the plants on a number of different farms to do a test grow. And that’s all subject to really carefully written agreements with very trustworthy farms. And the idea there is to see how the plant performs under a lot of different cultivation conditions. Perhaps in different microclimates or in the hands of different indoor cultivators. And we really establish a research baseline for how this plant performs. In which ways is it always the same and in which ways is it different? Are there certain climates around the world where it might really thrive and others where it might struggle?
So we try to document that as well as we can. So that that can go into the package of, you know, value-added information that that a licensee is going to care about. It’s gonna make someone want to pay a royalty for access to that. So it starts with IP protection. A really careful rigorous test grow and then using our network to help to find the right places, the right businesses that might want to take a license. And then we negotiate those license deals. And then there’s a royalty that comes back to the company and that is shared with the breeder.
And when I was thinking about starting this company, my idea was somewhat analogous to a music label. The artist is a creative person, but they don’t necessarily want to do things besides making music, they want to focus on that. There’s a record company that does everything else. They do all the legal work, the production, the marketing, all of that stuff. And then it creates a big market for that creative person’s work and the value from that big market flows back to that creative person. And in a very much the same way, in your situation, if you had a variety that you thought people all around the world could really benefit from, we would help you get the IP protection so that it was safe to put it in a lot of different places, make the right kinds of agreements, so that it’s not just IP, it’s also good, strong legal agreements with a trusted network, and then put it out there with good documentation so that people are going to be willing to pay a premium on that because they know what they’re going to get. And then the royalties start coming back and you get the benefit of that.
One thing I want to mention is that even though we’re getting the IP protection, our company, Breeder’s Best, is not going to own that IP. That IP will always be owned by the breeder. One of the things that was pointed out to me when I was using this record company analogy is that, yeah, record companies kind of rip off their artists and they get into fights with their artists. And I realized, yeah, a lot of that is about ownership and control of their copyrights. And I recognize that, for us to be a good partner for independent breeders and for us to be trustworthy, we need to make sure that we’re not perceived and certainly not behaving as some aggregator of IP rights. Yeah, we’re gonna have licenses for these things. But the independent breeders will always be the ones that own that IP. Another long answer, but there’s a lot to talk about there. There’s a lot that goes into making that whole thing work.
No worries on your long answers. They’re very, very informative and interesting. And it’s a fascinating subject matter. So thank you for describing those services to me. That was very helpful. Now, in the description of Breeder’s Best that I read at the beginning of the show, I talked about how Breeder’s Best works by helping deliver genetics with many of the lesser known and rare cannabinoids as well as desirable combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes. And I wanted to ask you to talk a little more about that. And maybe there is a sort of very unique variety of cannabis that you, Breeder’s Best, have worked with that you could use as an example or just anything you would have to say on that topic.
Sure. Yeah, there are a few things. I’ll start by telling a story. A couple of years ago, let’s see, I guess it was late 2018. I was going to Emerald Cup to speak on a panel. But I noticed that Ethan Russo was also speaking and I’d never met him and I was already kind of a big admirer. So one of my main goals for going to Emerald Cup was just to get to meet him and tell him how much I admired his work. So as I was coming off the stage from my panel discussion, Ethan’s business partner grabbed me and said, “Hey, we’ve been looking for somebody who knows plant genetics and IP, would you be willing to have dinner with Ethan Russo?” I was like, “Good heavens, yes, I’d have dinner with Ethan.” So we had dinner and we talked about this idea for Breeder’s Best. And Ethan mentioned, he got excited about it, because he has had for a long time a wishlist of different combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes that aren’t currently available in whole flower form and that he wishes did exist because he already has ideas about which kinds of conditions those would treat, or which kinds of needs those would best meet.
And so part of what we’re working on in Breeder’s Best is a particular search for things that fit Ethan’s wishlist. And those can become very quickly, really special medicines that are essentially endorsed by Ethan and that we already have, I think, a big head start in believing they’ll have a real impact on patients. So that’s one of, you know, when it talks about particular combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes, that’s largely inspired by Ethan’s wishlist. It’s not solely Ethan’s wishlist, but that’s a big inspiration. And to me, it’s just such an honor to be able to work with him and to help tap into the vast creative potential of all of these cannabis breeders to find things that will become great whole plant medicines.
But in addition to that, you know, on the rare cannabinoids side, everybody’s heard of THC and CBD. People in your audience I’m sure have heard of other cannabinoids like THCV and CBG and CBN and CBC and so on. There is special potential to help people and to make great medicines and great products from any of those cannabinoids and definitely from those cannabinoids in combination with each other as well as in combination with CBD and THC. And so we are definitely on the lookout for the things that you can’t already find in a dispensary or that aren’t particularly in a good form in a dispensary. You know, they’re not necessarily combined with the right terpene profile or something. So we are working with breeders who have submitted genetics that are way higher than normal in THCV or CBG or CBC, just to name a few.
And we’ve had inquiries from people who’ve heard about our company from all over the world saying, “Hey, if you can find this, we’ve already got a market for that.” And so occasionally on our social media, we’ll put out a request for genetics, which is kind of like, you know, one of those contract requests for proposals. Tell us what you’ve got and we’ll see if we can help to turn that into a success. And so we are on the lookout for really anything that can meet a need. We want to connect all this creative work on the part of the breeders with all the demand all over the world, from patients and product developers, so that we can have this plant realize its full potential to impact people all over the world.
Fascinating. I heard you mentioned there a little bit of international work. Do you work with breeders internationally or most of your breeders located in the US or perhaps even just specifically in California?
I’d say the bulk of our submissions so far have come from California, but there definitely are submissions that have come from outside of California and I’m pretty sure we’ve had some submissions that have come from outside the US. In all cases, the early part of what we do is all on paper. And so we can work with people from anywhere. You know, it’s really we just evaluate pictures of the flower, we evaluate a COA if it’s available, information about the way the plant was bred, et cetera. And then we decide the ones that we think are most promising for us to work with more closely. And then there’s this process of, you know, actually getting to the point that we can work with living material. And that is a process and that very much depends on the geography and other factors. Because, you know, we’ve got to be able to make things work and and work within a particular regulatory environment. But yes, and then, of course, on the other side of it, on the demand side, that’s the supply side, on the demand side, we’ve definitely had inquiries from all over the place, all over the US as well as foreign countries. And we’re excited about the opportunity to really connect the supply with the demand and help readers see the fruits of their labors, helping people all over the world and get some revenue from tapping into those big markets.
Right, exactly. That’s incredible. And I personally am pretty excited for the international growth of cannabis as it leaves its demonized state, in our country and all over the world. I see more and more places moving in that direction and consciousness expanding. So does Breeder’s Best maintain its own nursery facility where it keeps any of the varieties that it’s working with? Or are those mostly on the test farms?
We have some partnerships with some licensed nurseries in California and we’re in talks with some relationships outside California as well. Right now, we are, I would call us a services company. We’re the ones that put the different parties in the supply chain in touch with each other and help to make all this work. And then of course, we provide the legal services and the relationships, the connections, the marketing, and all of that. I would certainly love to see us have our own facility. And I think that as we get some successes behind us in terms of licensed revenues and in terms of investor interest, that we will go in that direction. We would love to have our own facility. But there are so many great license holders in the nursery space as well as a cultivation space. We don’t want to compete with them. I’d love to have a facility just so that we can do some of our tests growing there and we can have kind of a library of the things that we’re working with there. But we don’t want to reinvent the wheel and there are some people who’ve already been doing this for years on the cultivation side, on the nursery side, that I think it makes a lot of sense and helps more people if we can work closely with them.
Thank you for explaining that to me. So what I’ve been mostly thinking about while we’ve been having this discussion is cannabis, you know, medicinal or recreational cannabis containing large amounts of THC as well as other cannabinoids. How has Breeder’s Best interfaced with the CBD hemp market that has been blossoming all over the country within the past few years?
We love it. And you know, I’ll just kind of back up and say that I’m a botanist. First I was a plant scientist before I became an attorney. And so when I think of cannabis, I still think of it as a scientific term for a genus of plants that includes what people colloquially call marijuana as well as hemp. And so I always think of cannabis with the big C and inclusive scope that definitely contemplates all of the hemp genetics that are out there and the tremendous demand for hemp genetics. So we’ve got some breeders whose genetics definitely qualifies him from a US regulatory point of view, even though in many cases, it’s medicinal and it’s flower. In other cases, we do have submissions that are high fiber, hemp so basically, non-flower. Well, varieties that are not focused on flower and extraction as much as other things that hemp can do. And then one thing I would definitely say is that on the demand side, many of the International inquiries we’ve had have been from people who are already cleared to grow hemp in country X, Y, or Z, and they just want to grow better genetics than they can access. So there’s a lot of interest in that. And we’re fans of cannabis with a big C, whether it has a lot of THC or a little bit or none.
Fabulous. I’m happy to hear that. It should be more inclusive in that capacity. So we’re actually reaching the end of our time today. And I wanted to ask you, before we sign off here, if there’s any final thoughts you’d like to share with our listeners? And most importantly, how can people find out more about your work, about Plant & Planet and about Breeder’s Best?
Well, I’ve got three websites that I hope are worth looking at. I believe they are. One is the law firm is plantandplanet.com. It’s that easy. The other one is the company Breeder’s Best. And that’s also just breedersbest.com. And because I get asked a lot of the same questions very frequently, I occasionally take the time to write a blog and put it on my other website, which is just plantlaw.com. And that’s a blog that addresses all kinds of things about plant IP protection as well as a few other topics. And so I’d love for people to go to any of those places. And certainly, there are ways to contact us through any of those websites.
But if there’s a breeder that has a particular submission they’d like to make, there’s some work that they’re pretty proud of, and that they would like us to take a look at, there’s a link on the breedersbest.com website for making submissions. And when you click on that link, it just asks a few pretty simple questions that gets you into our database. And I do have to say, you know, we’re a new company. And so we are refining the way we handle those things. So if anybody’s already submitted something and you haven’t heard from us, please accept my apologies and give me a ring or send me an email and we’ll get on top of it. But I think that for the most part going forward, anybody that submits something through the website will hear from us and we’ll be able to get the ball rolling on evaluating their submission.
The other thing I would say is that when we talk about plant medicine, a lot of times that seems like Big Pharma or some other way of depersonalizing the medicine process. And one of the things that I am most excited about with Breeder’s Best is that this really is, it starts with a plant, and in many cases, it can end with the plant. In many cases, the best medicine is going to be a whole flower medicine. And even though we’re getting IP protection for breeders, we’re very committed to finding ways for great medicines to be available to people on a homegrown basis. And we’ve got to work out the details of that. But if we’ve got a special variety that is making great medicine and is making a great impact, we’re definitely committed to finding a way for that to be available for home growing in places where it’s legal. And if a breeder has a patent to protect someone from grabbing that plant and growing a bazillion acres of it and creating a competing business, that patent is to protect that kind of abuse. But it’s not to keep individuals from being able to get the plant for home grow. So the regulatory obstacles there may be different from one place to another. But our purpose here is to help readers succeed and help patients and other people who use cannabis to really have access to it. And we think that if we keep our focus on that, the company will be one that people can believe in and trust and admire and work with. And that’s our goal.
Wonderful. Dr. Hunt, I want to thank you so much for joining us today and thank you for being a member of our wonderful cannabis community and for all of your contributions. And I wish you great success with both Plant & Planet and Breeder’s Best.
The CBD School Podcast sounds great. Thanks to the guys at The Base Sound Creations. Whether you’re thinking about getting into podcasting or you already have a show, I highly recommend getting in touch with them. They’ll help you with sound editing and mixing, publishing, distribution, promotion, branding, content analysis, tech support and many more production aspects. Email them at email@example.com, making sure to use the coupon code MYPODCASTNOW to get a free 30-minute consultation. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org and that’s base, BASE. For more information, visit thebasesound.com/podcasting and start podcasting the right way today. As I mentioned in this episode with Dr. Hunt, I am the co-owner and operator of Wild Land Cannabis. We grow only the finest heirloom cannabis full term in native soil under the sun, the moon, and the stars in Northern California in a pristine environment in the mountains above the beautiful Eel River watershed. If you’re interested in seeing what we have to offer, including Emerald Cup winning varieties, you can check out our Instagram @wildlandcannabis or visit us on the web at wildlandcannabis.com.
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