The open-source seed licence opens up a way to protect seed against privatisation and to maintain it as a common good. Open source implies that seed is made available without any restrictions from intellectual property rights including patents and variety production. Therefore, “open-source” is different from “open access”, which is entirely free and unlimited. Open source aims to keep a good as common property, to protect it from privatisation.

The rules of open source were first introduced by computer scientists in the GNU Manifesto and lead to development of the General Public Licence (GPL) and Creative Commons Licence, which are often used instead of copyright.

The seed licence permits the licensee to use the seeds for his or her purposes, to multiply it, to pass it on and to enhance it. In addition, it allows the dissemination of multiplied and enhanced seeds.

At the same time, it obliges the licensee to grant the same rights he or she has enjoyed to future owners of the seeds. Any enhancements that have been made to the seeds are also subject to these rights. The licensee is not permitted to restrict usage by any means (e.g. through patents or variety protection). This obligation is “viral” and is sometimes called “copyleft”. Not only the licensed seed itself, but all enhancements to it are included. With the first licensing, a chain of contracts is started, which in principle is endless. Licensees become licensors, who pass on the seed with the same licence. In doing so, the licence protects a commons that can no longer be transferred into the private domain.