April 27, 2003

Monsanto's Species-Wide Patent on Trial

May 6-7 2003, European Patent Office Hears Patent Challenge in Munich - Eight and One-Half Years Later!

On May 6-7, 2003, almost nine years after ETC Group (formerly known as RAFI) officially challenged Agracetus/W.R. Grace's patent monopoly on all genetically modified soybeans, the European Patent Office will hold an oral hearing to decide the fate of one of agbiotech's most notorious patents.  It was the emergence of species-wide patents on soybeans and cotton in the early 1990s that first galvanized governments, scientists and CSOs to seriously question the morality and ethics of intellectual property in the early 1990s. (1)

Specious Species Patent: On March 2, 1994 a US-based biotech company, Agracetus (then-subsidiary of W.R. Grace & Co.), won a European patent on all genetically engineered soybean varieties and seeds (regardless of the genes used) and all methods of transformation (one of the patent's claims actually extends beyond soya to other plant species!).(2) Even biotech industry insiders were stunned by W.R. Grace's sweeping patent monopoly on one of the world's major food crops.  ETC Group, with the support of 18 civil society organizations worldwide, filed formal opposition to the patent in December 1994.

See ETC Group's 1994 "Notice of Opposition Against European Patent No. 301,749" "ETC Group believes that EPO must throw out Monsanto's patent because it is technically flawed and morally unacceptable," said Jim Thomas, the UK-based Programme Officer of ETC Group. "We don't want the patent pruned - we want it revoked," said Thomas. "After waiting nine years to get an oral hearing, we are firm in our conviction that intellectual property jeopardizes world food security, undermines conservation and use of biodiversity, and increases the economic insecurity of farming communities. Instead of promoting innovation, intellectual property is stifling research, limiting competition and thwarting new discoveries," said Thomas.

At the European Patent Office in Munich, ETC Group will be represented by Mr. Daniel Alexander, a London-based barrister specializing in intellectual property law. Mr. Alexander served as a commissioner on the United Kingdom's Commission on Intellectual Property Rights. In Munich, ETC Group will join Greenpeace and other civil society organizations that are actively involved in opposing the patent. Stephan Geene, an activist who cooperates with Greenpeace, was also among the original patent challengers in 1994. The EPO has taken the unusual step of scheduling two days for the hearing and has indicated that it will move to a bigger room to accommodate the interested parties.

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