Sam Van Aken is both a Syracuse University professor and an artist who has had his work displayed in galleries around the world. But in order to create some of his latest works, he used nature and his youth spent on a farm as his inspiration.
Van Aken is the creator of the Tree of 40 Fruits — a tree that actually grows 40 different types of stone fruit as it blooms. In other words, the tree grows anything with a pit: apricots, peaches, nectarines, almonds, cherries, and more. In the springtime, they blossom in all different shades of pink, purple, and white. Van Aken describes the trees as part Frankenstein’s monster and part Dr. Seuss, and he’s created all different designs so he can control how the trees bloom and where they bear fruit.
How was this achieved? Van Aken used a process known as “chip grafting,” where he takes the branches from different tree species and attaches them to the branches on the tree. This allows him to customize the design of the trees, which he showed off in colorful sketches in a National Geographic video.
But Van Aken hasn’t just left the trees in an orchard. They have been sold to private sellers and commercial properties, and there’s even one on display at Syracuse University, where he teaches. The trees sell for $30,000 a piece and have been planted up and down the eastern United States. Van Aken’s goal has been to plant them in places where people might stumble upon them and marvel at all the fruits that can be picked from their branches.
What Van Aken has done is certainly awe-inspiring, but he’s not the only horticulturalist to create new and interesting plants. In fact, scientists who make their own plants can actually get that intellectual property patented in order to sell them and get credit for their discoveries.
Just as copyright provides the basics for written and artistic works (something that Van Aken, as an artist, is familiar with), patents help inventors protect their work, too. The United States International Trade Commission found recently that theft of intellectual property patents, trademarks, and copyrights rose 80.6% in 2010 and another 23.2% in 2011. Small businesses and other individuals often don’t have the ability to protect themselves from intellectual property theft, but applying for a patent can help their case hold up in court.
Getting asexually reproduced plants and other intellectual property patented is done through the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The plant patent process steps are similar to those for utility and design patents, and the length of patent protection is 20 years from the date of filing. As with any patent, there are also maintenance fees that have to be paid while the patent is still in effect. Whether an inventor has created a tree that bears multiple types of fruit, a machine to pick the fruit, or any other process related to horticulture, it’s best to talk to an intellectual property rights lawyer about patent filing and other issues pertaining to those inventions.