Europe moves on patents

November 28, 1997

European ministers were yesterday expected to back the controversial European biotechnology patent directive.

The directive, rewritten to take in amendments from the European parliament in July, was debated by the Council of Ministers, which was expected to reach a common position.

The directive, Europe's second attempt at legislation following a defeat two years ago, has seen predictable polemic with industry and greens taking sides. Some claim it represents a patent on life, others that it is necessary to protect business interests and research jobs.

Prior to the debate, John Battle, United Kingdom science minister, told the House of Commons that the directive was to harmonise patents across Europe and clarify what is and is not patentable.

He told the European Union's standing committee that the directive would forbid the patenting of anything in the UK that is currently unpatentable and would "tighten up the law". He stressed the directive's ethical provisions.

If the ministers reach a common position as expected, the directive will return to the European parliament for a second reading and could be adopted as early as April or May.

This week's debate coincides with a UK government announcement of public consultations next summer on developments in genetic and biological research.

Launching the initiative, Mr Battle said: "Biotechnology will play an important part in the way we shape the future. I believe that it can offer unparalleled opportunities. But at the same time, we must protect human rights to ensure that scientific developments prove to be not dehumanising, but life enhancing."

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