Brussels, 11 Mar 2005
The European Patent Office (EPO) has, for the first time, decided to withdraw a patent on the grounds of biopiracy.
A patent was awarded to the US Department of Agriculture and the multinational company WR Grace in 1995 for the fungicidal properties of seeds extracted from the neem tree, native to India. But a campaign for the revocation of the patent was immediately launched by a three-party coalition: the European Parliament's Green Party, India's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.
'[This] is a victory for traditional knowledge and practises. This is the first time anybody has been able to have a patent rejected on these grounds. Second, it is a victory for solidarity; with the people of developing countries - who have definitively earned the sovereign rights to their natural resources, and with our colleagues in the NGOs [non-governmental organisations] who fought with us against this patent for the last ten years,' said Magda Aelvoet, who was president of the Green Party in 1995, when the original submission to the EPO was made.
The patent was revoked five years after it was awarded, but the decision was appealed by the US Department of Agriculture and WR Grace. The decision on 8 March brings the ten-year dispute to a close.
'Biopiracy' describes a process in which living resources or traditional knowledge and practises are patented, thus applying intellectual property restrictions to their use. The resources in question are predominantly from developing countries, and are the subject of patent applications by companies in developed countries. The neem tree has been used for thousands of years in India in agriculture, public health, medicine, toiletries, cosmetics and livestock protection. A patent application should always be rejected if there is prior existing knowledge about a product.