EP votes against patents on plants and animals
By Sophie Mosca | Thursday 10 May 2012
In a resolution adopted in plenary session, on 10 May – with 354 votes in favour, 192 against and 22 abstentions – the European Parliament recommends banning patents on soya with a high concentration of oil, or high-yield dairy cows. MEPs want to protect European breeders from excessive patent protection, which could stifle innovation and restrict biological and animal diversity. More specifically, they call on the European Commission and the European Patent Office (EPO) to exclude products derived from conventional animal or plant breeding, and all conventional animal or plant breeding methods from patenting.
The Commission has always ruled out reviewing the difficult-to-arrive-at text, Directive 98/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions. Said directive establishes the principle that for seeds, plants and animal selection, only what has been obtained through genetic engineering, ie genetic manipulation, can be patented. In other words, conventional-bred seeds or animals should be excluded from patenting in the EU, contrary to what is done in the US.
INCREASE IN APPLICATIONS
Yet for ten years there has been an increase in patent applications filed with the EPO for plants or conventional animal breeding: 1,700 patents were issued for plants, and less than 100 were for products from conventional breeding, and 1,200 for animals, of which 300 concerned conventional breeding.
The EPO has authorised patents for some types of tulips that resist certain diseases; these tulips combined the use of conventional breeding techniques and biological markers to improve conventional breeding.
The EPO found that this type of patent could be issued since it involved a technological breeding innovation for several varieties, rather than just one. Those who hold this sort of patent are thus authorised to ban farmers from benefitting from the right to reuse their seeds for new crops. MEPs, such as Evelyne Gebhardt (S&D, Germany), one of the rapporteurs, denounces this, saying that “we must think about what an invention is” and work on the gray areas of the current legislation.
“The abuse of the European patent system” is a danger denounced by the coalition No Patents On Seeds!. The coalition warns of the EPO’s bypassing of the directive though a legal loophole and points to the disastrous consequences for the entire production chain and the consumers, ultimately – in terms of the growing costs.
Furthermore, there has been an ongoing concentration of actors in this market, with a dozen multinational firms owning 50% of the global seed market (Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, among others). Ruth Tippe, who represents the coalition, welcomes the parliamentary resolution, saying that it cannot be ignored by the EPO.
Indeed, the EPO is shortly to make an important decision on two important patents for broccoli and the wrinkled tomato. The EPO has turned down a patent on conventional breeding and suspended its decision, which was passed on to the Grande Chambre which will have to make its decision on the patent for products from this conventional breeding.
The European Seed Association also supports this resolution, and calls for more legal clarity. MEPs are also asking the Commission for a report on these issues, as laid out in the 1998 directive. The Commission has announced that the report will be available in autumn.
MEPs call on the EPO to exclude products derived from conventional animal or plant breeding, and all conventional animal or plant breeding methods from patenting