GENTECH archive


India fights US basmati rice patent

I believe the kicker in the globalization of intellectual property like
patents is the principle that a patent recognized in one country
will be recognized by all signators to the WTO treaties, hence that
infringement within India of US patent claims to basmati rice will call
for WTO sanctions against India.

Am I correct ?


OBSERVER (London)    Sunday June 25, 2000

India fights US basmati rice patent
	by Anthony Browne, environment correspondent

The battle over who controls the world's food supplies has escalated
dramatically with the Indian government launching a legal challenge in the
United States against an American company which has been granted a patent
on the world-renowned basmati rice.

It is thought to be the first time a government in a developing country
has challenged an attempt by a US company to patent  --  and thus control
the production of  --  staple food and crops in what campaigners dub the
'rush for green gold'.

Basmati rice, sought-after for its fragrant taste, was developed by
Indian farmers over hundreds of years, but the Texan company RiceTec
obtained a patent for a cross-breed with American long-grain rice.

RiceTec was granted the patent on the basis of aroma, elongation of the
grain on cooking and chalkiness. However, the Indian government last week
filed 50,000 pages of scientific evidence to the US Patents and Trademarks
Office, insisting that most high quality basmati varieties already possess
these characteristics. The US Patent and Trademarks office accepted the
petition and will re-examine its legitimacy.

The patent  --  granted only in the US  --  gives RiceTec control over
basmati rice production in North America. Farmers have to pay a fee to
grow the rice and are not allowed to plant the seeds to grow the following
year's crops.

India fears the patent will severely damage exports from its own farmers
to the US. In 1998, they exported almost 600,000 tonnes of basmati rice.

India has also objected to RiceTec calling the rice 'basmati', insisting
the name should be used only for rice grown in the Basmati region of
India. The Indian government is claiming similar status for basmati rice
as that granted to Champagne, Cognac and Scotch whisky.

India's legal challenge is being support by ActionAid, which is launching
a campaign to highlight the issue next week.

Ruchi Tripathi said: 'The basmati patent exposes the mounting threat posed
by multinationals to crops devel oped and grown by poor farmers for

There are currently more than 200 patents granted on rice, almost
exclusively to US and Japanese companies.

It is currently not possible to patent staple foods and crops in Europe or
developing countries but a European directive is about to change that in
the EU.

At World Trade Organisation talks which start tomorrow, rich nations are
expected to put pressure on developing nations to allow the patenting of
crops in their own countries. Tripathi said: 'If rich countries abuse
their power to get their way in the World Trade Organisation, developing
countries like India will lose the right to challenge patents on crops.'


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