GENET archive


mail-out 75 'No control on life!'

Mail - out 75  'No control on life!'			(March, 2000)
(Florianne Koechlin, Blueridge Institute)

Dear friends
Here an - uncomplete - collection of some developments in the

European Patent-Office (EPO): Turnaround in legal interpretation.
Most of our legal oppositions to plant- and animal-patents are still
pending at the EPO. Examples are: The opposition to the onco-mouse-patent,
to the flavr-savr (the everlasting tomatoe-)patent, to the RR-soja-patent
or to a patent on transgenic birds. In December '99 the Enlarged Board of
the EPO made a turn-around in the legal interpretation of the European
Patent Convention and took away almost all hurdles for patenting living
beings (let's remember that the EPO is an independent enterprise living
from patent-application fees). After this legal salto mortale the
oppositions will probably have a hard stand.

Opposition to Neem-patent
One exception could be the oppostion to a Neem-patent (Neem is a tree
widely spread in India). Oral proceedings to this patent will be on May 9
and 10, 2000 at the EPO in Munich. A press-conference and other activities
are planned.
In 1994 the multinational W.R.Grace and the US Deoartment of Agriculture
got a patent covering a method for
controlling fungi on plants by the aid of a hydrophobic extracted neem oil.
In June of 1995 a legal opposition against the grant of this patent was
filed by the Green Group in the European Parliament, the Research
Foundation for Science, New Delhi, and IFOAM ( International Federation of
Organic Agriculture Movements).
The Opponents submitted evidence to the EPO that the fungicidal effect of
hydrophobic extracts of neem seeds was known and used for centuries on a
broad scale in India, both in Ayurvedic medicine to cure dermatological
diseases, and in traditional Indian agricultural practice to protect crops
from being destroyed by fungal infections.  Since this traditional Indian
knowledge was in public use for centuries, it would seem that the patent
application in question lacked two basic statutory requirements for the
grant of a European patent, namely novelty and inventive step (in the U.S.
In addition the Opponents argued that the patent violated Article 53(a) of
the European Patent Convention, which prohibits patents to be granted for
inventions that are "contrary to morality," in that it constituted theft of
traditional knowledge which had heretofore been freely shared.

Patent on human cloning: In December 1999 the EPO granted the patent No EP
695351 to the Australian firm Stem Cell Sciences and the University of
Edinburgh (UK). The patent covers also the altering of human cells and
human embryos. Greenpeace made this outrageous patent public. GPs Christoph
Then:"This brings us significantly closer to producing human beings in the
laboratory and then patenting them.", while EPO speaker Osterwalder
declared that it was a mistake. Oppositions to this patent were filed by
Greenpeace Int. and some NGOs (such as the Basler Appell, CH) and by the
German Governement.

TRIPS and the "like minded group"
At the WTO-meeting in Seattle patents on life should have been an important
issue: The TRIPS arrangement (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights
System) should have been revised. A strong opposition from Southern
countries requested a ban on all patents on living beings, be it animals,
plants or micro-organisms. The opposition, calling themselves "Like Minded
Group", consisted of ALL African countries, of India, Pacistan, Brasilia,
Ecuador, Peru and Paraguay. The Seattle meeting collapsed; the
TRIPS-revision did not take place and is again on the agenda for the TRIPS
Council meeting in Geneva, 21 and 22 March.
(Update on the TRIPS review from GRAIN is available online at:

Request for dictamen
The Spanish NGO Ecologistas en Accion made an interesting move: They
submitted a request of dictamen to the International Court of Environmental
Arbitration and Conciliation on the conflict between TRIPS and the
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). NGOs are asked to join.
(More infos: Isabelle Bermejo: )

About patent rows on human genes, scientific integrity and morality
* A quarter-century after they first gathered in  Asilomar, scientists have
returned for a 3-day-conference. And
they are warning that pressures on researchers to compete and on biotech
firms to earn profits, while withholding information about their failures,
are undermining a tradition of scientific integrity established at the
original Asilomar Conference of 1975. ``The major thing we achieved (in
1975) was . . . public  trust,'' said
Paul Berg, who convened the original conference. This is about to change,
as Dr. Donald S. Fredrickson, the former director of the National
Institutes of Health, remarks: ``Morality has been soiled.  Entrepreneurs
are repressing any information that suggests an unfavorable outcome as
`proprietary' -- and keep it secret,'' Fredrickson said.  ``We need a
re-awakening -- a moral re-evaluation.'' The symposium has triggered a
heated debate: There is growing tension between the tradition of openness
and the demand for greater privacy by commercial biotech companies (- most
frequently because of pending patents- ), according to the Symposium.
(Source: San Jose Mercury News, Lisa Krieger, 02/17/2000, cited from GEN 2-18)
 "With the biomedical revolution in full swing, academic scientists who
lack industry ties have become as rare as giant pandas in the wild.", adds
the New York Times (2/20/00, interesting article)

*   A series of genes on chromosome 17 were identified to be indirectly
responsible for the genetic disorder Canavan disease. Patent holder, the
Miami Children's Hospital, announced plans to strictly license its patent
on the Canavan gene. Not only did Miami Children's demand that clinicians
pay a $25 royalty (eventually lowered to $12.50) each time they performed
the test; it also put a cap on the number of tests any academic lab could
do. Some of the leading genetics labs in the country would not accept
MiamiChildren's licensing terms and as a result had to stop testing for
Canavan disease. "It's a wretched contract and we refused to sign it," says
Debra Leonard, University of Pennsylvania hospitals. Shocked patient groups
and scientists could only watch in dismay as bickering lawyers put a
squeeze on
information they'd worked long and hard to generate. Canavan disease is one
of a growing number of conditions in which patent fights have intruded into
genetic medicine. Ninety percent of the 150 U.S. clinical genetics labs in
a recent survey reported having withheld tests because of onerous patent
claims. Genes for early-onset Alzheimer's and
breast cancer are among the most common DNA sequences saddled with
restrictive licenses.
(Source: Health and Body, 3/7/00, cited from GEN3-14, Richard Wolfson)