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EU industry welcomes end of patents on natural plant properties

Dutch and European industry bodies like Plantum, Bionext, LTO, VBN and GroentenFruit Huis welcome the decision of the European Patent Office (EOB) not to grant patents any more on natural plant properties. Good for breeding, for biodiversity, for food safety, for free market forces and innovation. In short, a 'huge boost' for the industry. 

The now drawn up treaty, in force since last Friday, has had a long run-up and years of lobbying. It is a complicated matter, the entire patent business, and definitely so when it comes to processes where legislator and EOB are also not necessarily familiar with. But in a nutshell, one can conclude: a claim, of which common sense says that it could never be made ("what do you mean, a red bell pepper is yours?") can now really not be made any longer. Or put differently: an ‘essential biological process’ is not eligible for a patent. When in nature, through plant reproduction, a new and unique individual occurs, the genetics of that individual are not eligible for a patent, not even when that plant reproduction takes place under the breeder's microscope.

Not waterproof
At the same time, it is already known that the system that has been created, is not waterproof. Exceptions are provided and who knows loopholes can be found in the law. For example, it is still possible to apply different processes and techniques. However, the new law states that when granting a patent for such a process or technique, the most ‘limiting description’ must be looked for: a particular result from a process or technique may be patented for a specific outcome but is nullified with the smallest adjustment. "We need to see how it's going to develop", the different parties say.

When they began to lobby against the existing patent right years ago, opposition came from two corners. On one hand, the large breeding companies, that with the opportunity to patent natural plant properties, ‘tried to make an extra earnings model beside the actual earnings model’ (according to Nico van Ruiten, chairman of Dutch horticulture industry body LTO). 

In addition, there was also resistance from an unexpected corner, of major multinationals, especially from the biotech sector. Judith de Roos, lawyer intellectual property at Plantum: "It was a kind of stress response. Apart from the actual proposal, the fact that anyway a proposal for limiting the patent right would be considered, made these companies nervous.”  “But because we simply had such strong arguments, their simply was no way around it," Niels Louwaars adds. "Issues such as food safety and biodiversity are matters that concern all of us."

Cost reduction
Also positive is that the decision will result in a cost reduction for breeders. Niels Louwers pointed out that breeders, besides being people with knowledge of flowers and bees, had to consult lawyers increasingly, in order to ensure that no ‘mistakes’ were made, which could result in annoying claims. The existing patents also meant - there are over 100, all of which will now be revised (and as is expected, will expire for the largest part) - an accumulation of costs for fellow breeders, who had to pay for each gene again.

Finally, the consumer will not notice much of this. Possibly, products will get a little cheaper eventually, but that remains to be seen. However, it is hoped that product diversity will benefit and thus guarantee a broader assortment. 

Publication date: 7/5/2017
Author: Geert Peeters



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