In Europe, over 3.500 patents on plants have been granted. European law says that only genetic modification can be regarded as a patentable invention. Nevertheless, the European Patent Office (EPO) already granted 200 patents on traditional breeding to big seed companies – this is a misuse of patent law!

invent lettuce
©Bio Eco Actual. Lettuce

Lettuce is one of the plant species concerned by many patent applications on conventional breeding. Although a variety per se can’t be patented, a patent can have a far-reaching scope and affect over hundred varieties. Euroseeds‘ database PINTO, for example, lists seven patents on lettuce affecting 236 varieties!

One concrete example is patent EP2966992 on traditionally bred lettuce that can be grown under hot climate conditions granted to the Dutch company Rijk Zwaan in 2018. The ‘invention’: the seeds are supposedly capable of germinating at temperatures above 22 degrees – a trait as well known from wild lettuce species and especially important against the backdrop of ongoing climate crisis. According to the text of the patent, the lettuce seeds, the plants and all its offspring showing the desired traits are covered by the patent. This patent could block access to biological diversity needed by other breeders to produce improved varieties. As a result, we will become increasingly dependent on a handful of global seed companies for climate change adaptation and our future food security. No Patents on Seeds! filed an opposition in 2019. 5 years later, in February 2024, a hearing took place, but the patent was upheld. A detailed decision with the reasoning behind is yet to be published by the EPO. This case shows, that it often takes years until an opposition is decided on and that often patents are upheld even though they violate current patent law. Further patents on conventional breeding have to be prevented at all costs.

Another patent by the same company covers lettuce which shows less discoloration of its surface after cutting and looks fresh for a longer period of time (EP1973396). In this case, a trivial method for selecting plants(cutting and then observing whether it starts to go brown) was claimed as an ‘invention’. It covers plants, progenies, parts of the plant, the seeds and the food.

Patents like the ones granted on lettuce, can block access to plants for other breeders needed for further innovation and poses a serious threat to diversity in plant breeding as well as to our response to climate change and species extinction. This would have a devasting effect on food security in Europe. As a result, the prohibition of patents on conventional breeding must be respected and the 39 member states of the European Patent Office have to ensure the correct interpretation of European patent laws.

Support our campaign:

No a las patentes sobre semillas

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

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