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Stop patents on bread and beer now!

New research: More and more loopholes allowing patents to be granted on food plants

10 April 2017

Patents claiming wheat, flour and bread, or tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber as inventions of industry – these are just a few examples of patent applications that were filed in 2016. The patent applications were filed to cover conventional breeding without any method of genetic engineering being involved. Currently, more and more patents are being filed in Europe on the conventional breeding of plants and animals, despite EU institutions having declared that this is something they want to stop. Unless political decision-makers take action, many of them have a good chance of being granted by the European Patent Office (EPO).

Research undertaken by the initiative No Patents on Seeds! shows that in 2016 around 60 patent applications on the conventional breeding of plants were filed at the World Intellectual Property Institution (WIPO) in Geneva. Around 50 further patents concern conventional breeding and methods of genetic engineering were filed in addition. Altogether, around 30 percent of all patent applications filed in the plant breeding sector were on conventional plant breeding. All in all, around 340 patent applications were filed in this sector. Most of these patents will be examined by the EPO.

“We are seeing companies such as Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, Dow AgroSciences and Syngenta file more and more applications on conventional plant breeding in Europe. These companies are not simply wasting their time and money – they have an expectation that these patents will be granted”, says Ruth Tippe, researcher for No Patents on Seeds!

The companies that filed the highest number of patent applications on plants in 2016, were DuPont (38 applications), Monsanto (22), Dow AgroSciences (16), Bayer (14) and Syngenta (7). The way in which recent patent applications are phrased can have far reaching consequences: Companies are increasingly submitting patent applications for interesting genetic information or characteristics they have, for example, identified by screening the genomes of plants. If these patents are granted, they cover all the plants and subsequent generations of plants with the same characteristics, regardless of how they were bred.

The patents on wheat, flour and food derived thereof are amongst these patent applications. They were filed by Arcadia BioSciences, a US company that collaborates closely with companies such as Dow AgroSciences. The companies claim that random mutations and natural variations in the genome of wheat plants are their invention. These traits are supposed to prolong the shelf-life of products such as grains, flours and bread; and they become inventions belonging to the companies. Arcadia claims all relevant mutations and genetic variations in wheat plants, and all wheat plants with the relevant characteristics as well as all food products derived thereof. The company has a good chance of the patent being granted. In 2016, the EPO granted very similar patents to the brewing companies Carlsberg and Heineken, which are based on random mutations in barley and also cover the process of brewing and all beverages derived thereof.

„The patents granted to Carlsberg and Heineken are increasingly becoming important precedents. Only if political action is taken to stop similar patents being granted in future, will most of the filed applications be rejected“, says Christoph Then, for No Patents on Seeds!. „Unless this happens, we will continue to see the sellout of our basic food resources being actively supported by the EPO.“

Indeed, as No Patents on Seeds! discovered, examiners at the EPO have already started to advise industry on how to phrase their patent applications to gain further monopolies on food plants in future.

No Patents on Seeds! is demanding that the contracting states of the EPO set a course to effectively stop patents on conventional plant and animal breeding at their next meeting in June. A technical paper with proposed changes in current interpretation in patent law has already been sent to the Patent Law Committee, which will meet at the end of April to discuss possible solutions. At the meeting, industry and the lobby organisations for patent lawyers will be present as observers, therefore No Patents on Seeds! is also requesting access.

Contacts:

Further Informations:
Report on the patent applications

click here for the press release:

10-04-17 media release: Stop patents on bread and beer now!

European Patent Office continues to grant patents on plants

No Patents on Seeds! provides overview of recently granted patents on plants

6. April 2017

The No Patent on Seeds! initiative has undertaken comprehensive research into patents granted on plants by the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2016. All in all, around 170 patents on plants were granted. Another 60 patents were issued on processes for genetic engineering of plants. The overall number of European patents on plants now stands at about 3000. At the same time, there has been a constant increase in the percentage of patents granted on conventional breeding. Despite the EPO announcing at the end of 2016 that it would stop granting patents on conventional breeding, last year, around 40 patents were granted in this area. In total, the EPO has already granted around 200 patents on conventional plant breeding.

As more detailed research shows, increased pressure from the EU did, indeed, stop the EPO from granting several patents in conventional breeding. The EU Commission, the Member States of the EU and the EU Parliament have jointly have taken a position against those patents. Now, however, it is becoming apparent that the EPO is working behind the scenes to create new loopholes to allow the continued patenting of conventionally bred plants and animals in the future. Many companies and patent lawyers seem to be adapting their patent applications accordingly.

“It is shocking to see just how easy it is for companies and patent lobbyists to escape political decision-making. All they need to do is to slightly change the focus of their patent claims in order to continue claiming seeds, plants and harvest as their invention. This allows companies, such as Bayer and Monsanto, to take increasing control of agriculture and food production,” says Christoph Then for No Patents on Seeds!.

One trick frequently used by companies is to no longer claim the process for breeding, but to simply claim plant characteristics, such as genetic conditions or changes in the phenotype of the plants. The scope of these patents covers all plants with these same characteristics, no matter which process was used in breeding. Further, in many cases, random mutations are claimed as inventions. This is in direct contradiction to the statement made by the EU that only methods for genetic engineering can be regarded as an invention. In 2016, up to 65 percent of patents granted on conventionally bred plants were based on random mutations.

Patents on beer held by Carlsberg and Heineken are recent examples of how these loopholes are being exploited. Starting with random mutations, all barley plants with a specific quality in brewing, the brewing process and the beer produced thereof are claimed as inventions. Civil society organisations in several European countries have actively started to protest against such practices. Similar patents on random mutations were granted to Bayer (oilseed rape), Monsanto (plants for oil production) and DuPont (maize). In its examination reports, the EPO advises the companies to change their claims accordingly in order to obtain such patents in the future.

Companies such as Bayer, Monsanto, BASF and DuPont, are amongst those holding the greatest number of patents granted on plant breeding. Taking into account some of their affiliates, BASF and Monsanto are leading with around 30 patents (each), followed by Bayer (20), DuPont and Dow AgroSciences (together 14) and finally Syngenta (8). If Monsanto is taken over by Bayer, the newly formed company would hold by far the greatest number of patents. Bayer has already publicly announced that it wants to prevent any political decisions that would lead to prohibitions in patent law becoming effective.

No Patents on Seeds! is demanding that the contracting states of the EPO set a course to effectively stop patents on conventional plant and animal breeding at their next meeting in June. A technical paper with proposed changes in current interpretation in patent law has already been sent to the Patent Law Committee, which will meet at the end of April to discuss possible solutions. At the meeting, industry and the lobby organisations for patent lawyers will be present as observers, therefore No Patents on Seeds! is also requesting access.

Contacts:

Further informations:

Click here for the press release:

06-04-17 press release: patents on plants granted

Call to stop patents on beer

We need effective prohibitions in European Patent Law!

15 March 2017

Today, 32 civil society organisations will start a public appeal to politicians and demand that effective prohibitions are put in place to stop the granting of patents on plants and animals derived from conventional breeding. The protest is targeted at patents granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2016 (EP2384110, EP2373154 and EP2575433) to the brewing companies Carlsberg and Heineken. The patents claim barley derived from conventional breeding, its usage in brewing beer and the beer produced thereof. However, the patents are simply based on random mutations in the plant’s genome. Just recently, the EU Commission and the EU Member States made it very clear that patents on plants and animals derived from conventional breeding are not allowed. Nevertheless, the EPO wants to continue to grant patents in future on random mutations. Currently, the civil society organisations are demanding that politicians ensure the loopholes in the law are closed.

The patented barley is said to simplify brewing and make it cheaper, the beer will also supposedly keep fresh for longer. The two brewing companies can profit twice over – by selling the beer and from the cultivation of the barley. At the same time, they can prevent other breeders from breeding better barley and also extend their market dominance – to the detriment of farmers, breeders, other breweries and consumers.

“If random mutations in the genome of plants are sufficient to claim barley and beer as inventions, then there is something completely wrong with the whole patent system. Politicians now need to act to stop such patents, and make it clear that the interests of consumers come before those of big companies,” says Erling Frederiksen from Friends of the Earth, Denmark.

The EPO plainly intends to carry on granting patents on plants and animals in future if random mutations are detected or triggered. In the conventional breeding sector, around half of patents as granted are based on such 'inventions at random’.

“If patents on plants and animals inheriting random mutations are allowed, the prohibition of patents on conventional breeding will remain largely ineffective. We urgently need political action and legal clarity,” says Ruth Tippe from “No Patents on Life!”. “Our research shows that such patents represent a large share of the patents that have been granted in relation to conventional breeding.”

The patents not only cover the barley, the brewing process and the beer itself, but also all barley plants with the characteristics described in the patent, independently of how they were bred. That is why the organisations are demanding that the scope of such patents is restricted: “According to the EPO’s current practice, companies which have a patent on plants or animals derived from genetic engineering can also claim all other plants and animals as their invention if they show the same characteristics, even if these characteristics occurred in nature or through conventional breeding methods,” says Christoph Then for the coalition 'No Patents on Seeds!’. “If we do not get legally binding boundaries to restrict the scope of patents, the EPO and big companies will continue to be able to subvert the prohibition on patents on plants and animals.”

The organisations are warning that the EPO has its own vested interests and has already tried several times in the past to circumvent the prohibition on patenting life. They are demanding that politicians no longer leave it solely up to the EPO to decide upon interpretation of the prohibition in patent law.

The following organisations are starting the appeal: Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft (AbL, Germany), Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Umweltbeauftragten der Gliedkirchen in der EKD (AGU, Germany) Arche Noah (Austria), Bioland (Germany), Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND) und Bund Naturschutz in Bayern (BN) (Germany), Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft (BÖLW, Germany), Bundesverband Naturkost Naturwaren (BNN, Germany), Die freien Bäcker, FIAN (Germany), Frosamlerne (Denmark), Gen-ethisches Netzwerk (Germany), Katholische Landvolkbewegung Deutschland (KLB, Deutschland), Kultursaat e.V. (Germany), Landesforeningen Praktisk Økologi (Denmark), IG Nachbau (Germany), IG Saatgut (Germany), NOAH – Friends of the Earth (Denmark), No Patents on Life! (Germany), No Patents on Seeds! (Europe), Plataforma Transgénicos Fora (Portugal), ProSpecieRara (Switzerland), PublicEye (Switzerland), Sambucus (Germany), Save or Seeds (SOS, Germany), SLOW (Denmark), Slow Food Germany (and Denmark regional), Swissaid (Switzerland), Umweltinstitut München (Germany), Verband Katholisches Landvolk e. V. (Germany), Zivilcourage (Germany).

The appeal aims to ensure that European governments will use their power in the Administrative Council of the EPO to render legal clarity and certainty on prohibitions in patent law. The Administrative Council, which represents the 38 Contracting States of the European Patent Organisation, will meet in Munich today and tomorrow. However, final conclusions are not expected before the next meeting in June 2017.

Contacts and further information:

Click here for the press release:

15-03-17 Start campaign No patents on beer