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GM Freeze Welcomes Patent Office Decision to Revoke Monsanto Monopoly

4 May 2007

Calls to: Pete Riley, Campaign Director GM Freeze 07903 341065/01226 790713; Pat Mooney, Executive Director, ETC Group (Ottawa) +1 613 241 2267; Jim Thomas, Research Programme Manager, ETC Group (Montreal) +1 514 516-5759

GM Freeze welcomed today’s European Patent Office (EPO) ruling revoking Monsanto’s dubious and unprecedented species-wide patent on all genetically modified soybeans (patent number EP0301749). ETC Group, an international civil society organization based in Canada, won its 13-year legal challenge against the biotechnology giant when an EPO appeal board ruled that the patent was neither new nor sufficient. [1]

The patent was vigorously opposed by Monsanto itself until the company purchased Agracetus, the original patent assignee, in 1996. One of Monsanto’s top scientists testified in 1994 that the genetic engineering process described in the patent was insufficient to allow a skilled scientist to replicate the procedure – a necessary criterion for patentability.

The technology related to the now-revoked patent has been used, along with other patents in the company’s portfolio, to corner 90% of the world’s GM soybean market, threatening global food security and the welfare of farmers everywhere. [2]

Hope Shand, representing ETC Group at the EPO hearing in Munich said:
“It’s shameful that it took the European Patent Office 13 years to kill Monsanto’s immoral patent, which was ultimately revoked on technical grounds. Though we’re relieved that the species-wide patent on all genetically modified soybeans – both seeds and plants – was not allowed to stand, the delay of more than a decade demonstrates just how broken the patent system is. The patent had barely a year to go before expiring!”

Shand added, “It was particularly satisfying that Monsanto’s own blistering 1994 arguments against the patent were ultimately key in defeating it.”

GM Freeze Campaign Director Pete Riley said:

Monsanto’s arrogance in even putting forward such a patent application is beyond belief. We are delighted that the European Patent Office has rightly rejected their attempt to gain unprecedented monopoly over the genetic resources in a major crop species.

The action was widely supported by environmental and anti-patent on life groups. Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher of EcoNexus, in Munich as a scientific advisor to ETC Group and member of GM Freeze’s Board of Directors, said:

Monsanto’s patent couldn’t even survive on its scientific merits. It was a thoroughly bad patent – from both a technical and moral perspective.

ENDs

Calls to Pete Riley, Campaign Director GM Freeze 07903 341065/01226 790713

Pat Mooney, Executive Director, ETC Group (Ottawa) +1 613 241 2267
or

Jim Thomas, Research Programme Manager, ETC Group (Montreal) +1 514 516-5759

Notes
1. ie, the invention claimed was not sufficiently described for a skilled person to repeat it.

2. See ETC Group News Release, “Monsanto’s Soybean Monopoly Challenged in Munich,” 30 April 2007. www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=616

3. They are multi-genome patents with claims on gene sequences that extend to 40 plant species. See ETC Group Communique, “Syngenta – The Genome Giant?,” January/February 2005. www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?id=73

4. See ETC Group Genotype, “Whatever Happened to the Enola Bean PatentChallenge?” 21 December 2005.
www.etcgroup.org/upload/publication/41/01/genotypeenola05.pdf]

Note to editors: The final wording of today’s ruling by the EPO appeals board will not be released for several more weeks.