Apple Diversity Report Card for the Twentieth Century: Patents and Other Sources of Innovation in the Market for Apples

UGA Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-01


Contrary to popular belief, the twentieth century was a good one for commercial apple varietal diversity. As measured by availability in commercial nursery catalogs, significant gains were made in both absolute number of apple varieties and the available number of pre-1900 historic varieties. In 1905, an estimated 420 different apple varieties were commercially available, approximately 390 of which dated from the 19th century or earlier. By 2000, 1469 different apple varieties were offered in commercial catalogs, at least 435 of which were pre-1900 century varieties. And, if one counts apple varieties maintained in the USDA orchards as commercially available (one can obtain scions by making a simple on-line request), hundreds more apples, including many historic varieties, can be added to the count. Most importantly, the data collected reveals the sources of diversity gains in the twentieth century, including an analysis of the percentage of varieties resulting from patented innovation, non-patented local innovation, preservation of old varieties, and importation. Although patented apples constitute a relatively small percentage of available varieties, they exhibit stunningly high commercialization rates and surprisingly low obsolescence rates. A unique list of all patented apples, their varietal names, and present availability is included in an appendix.