The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) (www. osseeds.org) seeks to address the dramatic transition over the past 100 yr in how plant germplasm is distributed, developed, and released: from a freely available resource primarily located in the public sector to proprietary structures managed largely by the private sector. OSSI was developed by a group of plant breeders, farmers, seed companies, nonprofit organizations, and policymakers with the goal of promoting and maintaining open access to plant genetic resources worldwide. OSSI seeks to provide an alternative to pervasive intellectual property rights agreements that restrict freedom to use plant germplasm through the development and promulgation of a Pledge which is intended both to raise awareness of these issues and to ensure that germplasm can be freely exchanged now and into the future. In this paper we discuss the historical forces and trends that have led to various types of biological and intellectual property protections and how this has potentially limited plant breeders’ “freedom to operate” and farmers’ sovereignty over seed. We then discuss how OSSI is providing an alternative to increasingly restrictive intellectual property rights for plants and working to maintain open access to plant germplasm.