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4-Patents: Syngenta claims multi-genome monopoly

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Syngenta Claims Multi-Genome Monopoly
SOURCE: etc Group, USA/Canada
DATE:   10 Jan 2005

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Syngenta Claims Multi-Genome Monopoly

ETC Group's first Communiqué of 2005 focuses on Syngenta, the global gene
giant that ranks first in agrochemicals and third in seeds. Syngenta has
a patent pending in 115 countries that, if approved, would give it a
multi-genome monopoly over at least 40 plant species.

Calling Syngenta's patent claims "an unprecedented bid for multi-genome
monopoly," ETC Group (pronounced "et cetera") has written to the European
Patent Office (EPO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) demanding that the patents
be rejected. Simultaneously, ETC Group has written to the Director-
General of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)
and to the Chair of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR) asking them to oppose Syngenta's applications, "on the
grounds that they represent a direct threat to world food security and an
attack on public agricultural research," said ETC Group's Research
Director, Hope Shand.

In a Communiqué released today, ETC Group reveals how Syngenta's public
image as the "nice" multinational belies its actual activities. "No more
'Mr. Nice Guy,'" Kathy Jo Wetter at ETC's US office insists, "Syngenta is
muscling its way toward control of dozens of plant species even as it
appears to make nice with FAO and CGIAR as the good guy Gene Giant. If
Syngenta is granted this patent, it will make Monsanto look like Santa Claus."

Syngenta's 323-page application, WO03000904A2/3 claims monopoly control
of DNA that regulates flowering development, flower formation, whole
plant architecture and flower timing in rice - in up to 115 countries.
But the claims are not limited to vital rice gene sequences. According to
a study prepared by Dr. Paul Oldham at Lancaster University (UK), the
scope of this massive patent application is virtually limitless -
extending to flowering plants in general, including those not yet
classified by taxonomists. Syngenta's claims extend to key gene sequences
of 23 major food crops annexed to the FAO Treaty on Plant Genetic
Resources for Food and Agriculture. "If all its claims are approved,"
says Silvia Ribeiro in ETC's Mexico office, "FAO's seed treaty will be
virtually useless." Dr. Oldham's analysis is available on the Internet:

Researchers are just weeks away from completing a polished sequence of
the rice genome. This DNA blueprint of the crop that feeds half the
world's people is also the basis for identifying similar genetic traits
in other flowering plants. "Effectively," says Kathy Jo Wetter, "the
completed rice map provides a template for most of the world's major food
crops. Syngenta is arguing that since it can identify certain gene
sequences in rice, it can monopolize the same sequences when they turn up
in other species."

Syngenta's involvement with rice genome research has been convoluted and
controversial. Initially, the company attempted to withhold its genomic
research from the public domain and only surrendered some information
after the scientific community - including two Nobel laureates -
criticized Syngenta publicly. Even as the company won favorable publicity
for donating some data, it was simultaneously applying for its multi-
genome patent. The company has also had a sticky history with genetically
modified Golden Rice - the supposedly vitamin A-rich rice created through
public funds and then surrendered to the company's predecessor in order
to avoid patent disputes. On the eve of World Food Day last October,
Syngenta donated patent licenses to the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board.
Syngenta Foundation - a company-dominated private foundation in
Switzerland - stirred more controversy and embarrassment when it was
invited to become a full member of the Consultative Group on
International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

"While the Genome Giant congratulates itself for donating rice germplasm
and information to public researchers, its lawyers are working overtime
to monopolize rice resources," says ETC's Silvia Ribeiro.

ETC Group is calling upon FAO and CGIAR to take the unusual step of
challenging the patent application prior to its determination by patent
examiners. "The patent system is heavily biased in favor of a patent
holder," explains Hope Shand. "If we don't block this patent and it is
approved with all its claims it will take years - possibly more than a
decade - to have it rescinded.

The litigation costs will be huge... It is urgent that FAO and CGIAR
defend world food security and protect the public good now before the
monopoly is granted."

The full text of the Communique is available on the ETC Group website:

For further information:

Pat Mooney, ETC Group (Canada), (613) 241-2267

Hope Shand and Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group (USA),
tel: +1 919 960-5223

Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group (Mexico) 52 55 55 632 664

Jim Thomas, ETC Group (UK) tel: +44 (0)1865 201719;
mobile: +44 (0)7752 106806


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