In April last year, a pair of Australian government agencies tried to patent two species of chickpea grown by subsistence farmers in India and Iran. The agencies had borrowed samples of the plants from an international gene bank in Hyderabad, India, where they are kept in trust along with tens of thousands of other seeds so that researchers anywhere can use them.
The two agencies, Agriculture Western Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation, realised when they grew them that they produced stronger and taller pods than commercial varieties. So they applied to the government's Plant Breeder's Rights Office in Canberra for intellectual property rights on the two chickpeas—which would prevent anyone else marketing them—despite the fact that they had done little more than propagate them. They even gave them Urdu names: Sona, meaning gold, and Heera, meaning diamond.