As a recent research report by No patents on seeds! shows, there is no end to patents being granted on conventional breeding. This puts the work of small scale breeders at serious risk. A recent case is a patent (EP 3380618) on maize plants, owned by the German company KWS, which will grow in a colder climate. These plants were bred from maize plant populations already known to tolerate colder conditions.

breeding in Europe

“Plants with the traits claimed in the patent have been present on the market for years. Granting these patents just increases legal risks, costs and uncertainties,” says Grietje Raaphorst, a representative of the Dutch company, Nordic Maize Breeding. “It could mean that Nordic Maize Breeding will be the last company to start a maize breeding program and the freedom to breed will come to an end”.

In May, No Patents on Seeds! filed an opposition against the patent at the European Patent Office (EPO). But it will take years until a decision can be expected.

We need a change in the current interpretation of the European patent law

As yet, European plant breeding law guarantees the right of breeders to use all conventionally-bred varieties for further breeding and the marketing of new seeds. However, the claims in the aforementioned patent cover the use of all plants and plant varieties with the described traits for further breeding. At the same time, it will be almost impossible for many breeders to find out whether their varieties are affected. The only way for them to continue breeding will be to sign license contracts with the patent holder, which would then create new dependencies and additional costs. Only the big companies will survive such market conditions.

To stop such patents, we need a change in the current interpretation of the European patent law. There is a quick and easy way to stop these patents by making the current interpretation of prohibitions more precise in order to close the existing loopholes. The first model law reflecting this new interpretation was recently adopted by the Austrian parliament. Other nations need to follow and the European Patent Office needs to change its rules for the interpretation of the European Patent Convention.

Unfortunately, the maize patent is just one example of many. Alone in 2022, the EPO granted more than 20 patents on conventionally-bred plants. In addition, around a hundred new patent applications were published last year.

No a las patentes sobre semillas

Author: Johanna Eckhardt, No Patents on Seeds! project coordinator.

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