Variety naming guidelines


If there is any confusion regarding the acceptability of a proposed variety denomination (variety name), applicants are advised to contact the Plant Breeders' Rights Office (PBRO).

For varieties of species requiring registration under the Seeds Act, there may be additional restrictions or requirements concerning the variety name. Applicants should consult with the Variety Registration Office of Canadian Food Inspection Agency's CFIA) Seed section for information.

General principles

Publication and approval

Every variety must be identified by a denomination (name) proposed by the applicant and approved by the Commissioner. If a denomination has not been chosen for a new variety at the time of filing the application for PBR, the application can be filed under an experimental number or proposed denomination which can be changed any time before rights are granted. The variety denomination shall only be approved by the Commissioner at the time of grant of rights. Prior to the approval, the proposed denomination of a variety must be published in the Plant varieties journal, and subjected to a 6-month objection period. During this time, if there are any valid objections to the proposed denomination, the applicant will be asked to propose a different denomination for the variety. Unless limited by provisions under the Seeds Act, reproductive material of a protected variety should be identified by the approved variety denomination when advertised or offered for sale. No name, other than the approved denomination, may be used, unless (as in the case of a marketing name) it is used in association with the approved variety denomination.

1 variety – 1 name

If a variety has been protected, or if an application for protection has been filed, in another country, the variety denomination in Canada must be the same as the denomination in the other country(ies). If the variety is not protected in another country but is being marketed or is known by a particular denomination in that country, that same denomination must be used if the variety is protected in Canada. This is in keeping with the "1 variety, 1 name" policy and reflects the importance of the single denomination for each variety worldwide. In some circumstances it may be necessary to protect the variety under a different denomination in Canada, for instance, if the variety denomination is found to be unacceptable here for some reason. In that case, the denomination by which the variety is known and/or protected in other countries is listed as a synonym. For varieties of crops requiring registration under the Seeds Act, the registered variety name and the denomination under which Plant Breeders' Rights are granted must be the same.


The use of a variety denomination cannot be restricted by any other designation, such as a trademark, even after the rights for the variety have expired. Therefore, no denomination nor any part of a denomination approved for PBR can be trademarked in Canada. This is because the holder of the rights must ensure free use of the variety denomination even after the rights have expired. Since trademark protection can last indefinitely, it would not be free for use upon expiry of the Plant Breeders' Rights.

Marketing names

For some species, trade or marketing names (which may or may not be trademarked) may be used in association with variety denominations for the purpose of marketing propagating material, but only if the approved variety denomination is easily recognizable. For example, the approved denomination of a Petunia variety may be PT123 but the breeder may wish to market the variety as Snow Flake. In this case, propagating material could be sold as PT123 or as PT123 Snow Flake. However, for varieties of agricultural crops there are specific labelling requirements under the Seeds Act and the use of another name in combination with the official variety name may be prohibited. Applicants are advised to consult the Seed section, CFIA.

Changes to a variety denomination

Throughout the application process, the applicant is responsible for notifying the PBR Office of any changes to a proposed variety denomination. Once rights have been granted to a variety, the denomination may only be changed under very specific circumstances:

  • where, by mistake, the denomination approved was not the denomination proposed by the applicant; or
  • where additional information becomes available following grant of rights justifying a change of denomination; such as an existing right of another person to the use of the designation

Variety naming guidelines

A denomination must conform to the guidelines outlined below. These guidelines are based on the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) naming guidelines.

Common, genus or species names - The use of genus or species names, common crop names or names of botanical types should be avoided for varieties within the same crop sectors that is agricultural crop sector, ornamental and forestry crop sector, vegetable crop sector and fruit crop sector. For example, a variety of barley named Rose would be acceptable however a variety of petunia named Rose would not.

Misleading or confusing - Denominations liable to mislead and/or cause confusion should be avoided. A denomination should be avoided that gives the impression that the variety:

  • has particular characteristics it does not have; or
  • is the only 1 with that characteristic when in fact others also have it; or
  • is derived from, or related to, another variety when this is not the case; or
  • has been bred by a certain breeder, when this is not the case

Comparatives or superlatives - Denominations should not cause confusion concerning the value of the variety by the use of comparatives or superlatives, such as better, best, superior, sweeter, etc.

Prior rights of a third party - The prior rights of third persons shall not be affected by the use of a proposed denomination. A denomination cannot be accepted if another right, already granted to a third party under any intellectual property legislation, is already in use.

Minimum characters - A variety denomination must contain a minimum of 2 characters.

Difference of 1 letter or number - In general, the difference of a single letter or number between 2 denominations may be considered liable to mislead or cause confusion concerning the identity of the variety, except where:

  • the difference of one letter is prominent in a way that it makes the denomination clearly distinct;
  • the denomination consists of a combination of letters and numbers;
  • the denomination consists solely of figures. The use of numbers alone is not recommended for naming varieties, unless it is an established practice where a variety is marketed within a limited circle of specialists (e.g., inbred lines etc.) or is an accepted market practice for particular variety types (e.g., hybrids etc.).

Claims - Any explicit or implicit claims incorporated as part of a variety name may only be used if they are accurate and verifiable. For example, in the case of some wheat varieties, the prefixes, for Fusarium Tolerant (FT), or for Fusarium tolerant high protein (FTHP).

Offensive language - A variety name shall not be such as to be considered offensive.

Denominations not acceptable in Canada - If a variety is protected, marketed or known in another country and the denomination is not acceptable to the Commissioner, alternate names may be used and will be the proposed denomination. The denomination used in the foreign country(ies) will be recorded as a synonym.

Accents - Accents or other marks may be included with a French variety denomination. However, the addition or deletion of such accents does not constitute enough of a difference to be considered a new denomination.

Punctuation and spacing - No punctuation marks or other typographical symbols, subscripts, superscripts or designs are allowed in any denomination. However, hyphens are acceptable between letters and numbers. Spaces are acceptable only between complete words, but not in codes or between letters and numbers.

Spaces and character limit - For denominations consisting of only numbers or number/letter combinations, the use of spaces is strongly discouraged. In addition, and as much as possible, denominations consisting of number/letter combinations should not contain more than 10 characters.

Upper and lower case letters - Denominations consisting of mixtures of upper and lower case letters (excluding the first letter of a name) and upper case letters only are discouraged.

Reusing a denomination - Where a variety is no longer protected, the denomination may not be reused for a variety of the same or similar crop kind. However, a denomination may be re-used where the original variety is no longer cultivated and the denomination has not acquired particular importance. These situations are determined on a case-by-case basis but generally, if the original variety no longer remains in commercial existence, and has not been included on an official list or register of plant varieties within the last 20 years, the denomination may be able to be re-used.

Variety denomination classes - A denomination should be unique, in that it should not be used more than once in the same botanical class. The classes have been developed such that the botanical taxa within the same class are considered to be closely related and/or liable to mislead or to cause confusion concerning the identity of the variety. In most cases a denomination class is equal to a genus; however there are exceptions forming special classes. The variety denomination classes can be found in annex 1 of UPOV document UPOV/INF/12/4 – PDF (167 kb).