Washington State University is taking steps to protect its new apple variety, WA 2, in overseas countries. WA 2, the first variety to emanate from its apple breeding program, is moving into the commercialization phase and is available to Washington growers only.

Dr. Kate Evans, WSU’s pome fruit breeder, said plant variety rights are slightly different from patents. Applications in Europe can be made only after the variety is growing as a fruiting tree in the country of application, and rights must be applied for within six years of offering the variety for sale. But before it can be sold and grown, it must go through quarantine, a process that could take a year or two.

“It’s very time sensitive,” she said. “You have to apply for those rights within a certain amount of time after you’ve offered the variety for sale. If you don’t do it now, you can’t do it ever.”

WSU has sent buds of WA 2 to a quarantine facility in the Netherlands and will work with an agent in Europe to submit the application for plant variety rights when the trees come out of quarantine and are fruiting.

Evans said there’s been discussion about where else in the world the variety might need to be protected. Budwood will probably be sent to agents in Southern Hemisphere countries in November, which is their spring.

The main reason for establishing plant variety rights overseas is to protect the variety from illegal propagation, Evans said. “Certainly, from past experience in other crops, things kind of mysteriously appear in other countries, and then you’ve lost it,” she said. “You have absolutely no control over how it’s grown.”

The only recourse would be expensive lawsuits to prove the ownership of the variety, she added. “If we could protect it rather than run around and try to mop up the damage afterwards, it would be better.”

Having plant variety rights would also be useful if WSU wanted to allow production of the variety in other countries, she said, though this is not likely to happen until several years after it is being ­produced in Washington.

“If you protect it, you can have some say in that protection and try to control the amount of production in those different territories, and even put in some other levels of control about when and where fruit is sold, so you can make the production complementary to Washington State production,” she said.

The industry has not identified protecting the variety in China as being an immediate concern, she added. “China is a difficult one when you start trying to enforce plant variety rights, though it’s got much better apparently.”