NYC Guerrilla Gardening

A victory in anti-biopiracy patent case

The European Patent Office in Munich today upheld objections from the Green Group in the European Parliament to a patent granted in 1994 to the transnational W.R. Grace company and the US Department of Agriculture for a claimed invention of the fungicidal properties of the Indian Neem tree.

The Examining Division held that the technique used was well-known to local farmers, lacked any inventive step and that such indigenous knowledge could therefore not be patented. The case was brought in the name of Magda Aelvoet, at that time President of the Greens in the Parliament and now the Belgian Environment Minister, together with the Indian Research Foundation led by Vandana Shiva and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).

The Neem tree has been used for centuries by Indians for its medicinal insecticidal and contraceptive properties and is known locally as the ‘free tree’. It is also venerated in the culture, religions, and literature of the region.

Green MEP Hiltrud Breyer (Germany) said “This action was brought to illustrate how the patent system is being abused by companies and even by governments from the North. Genetic resources, which are freely available in the South are being expropriated without reward or recognition for their traditional custodians. We have long warned of the iniquities of such licensed theft. This is Biopiracy at its crudest.”

We know of around 40 other Neem patent applications at various stages in the European Patent Office, and there are about 90 such patents world-wide” commented Paul Lannoye MEP (Belgium), Co-President of the Greens/EFA Group. “At a time when national authorities are supposed to be transposing the EU Biotech. Patent Directive into law, there is renewed concern at the obvious defects in intellectual property rules and we must take this opportunity to protect genetic resources from such uncontrolled privatisation.

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