is a form of monopoly right to profit from a product for a fixed term.
Patents were originally designed for the inventors of mechanical devices
to profit from their inventions. Powerful Agro-chemical and pharmaceutical
sectors in Europe and North America have pushed for patents to be redefined
to include biological "discoveries" including plant varieties, animal,
plant and microbe genes and genetic engineering processes.
The US, EU and Japanese governments, representing this corporate lobby
is using the World Trade Organisation to force all
it's member states to enact patents on plant varieties.
Genetic material and traditional plants which have been bred over generations
and held in common have been stolen and patented in another country by
corporate industry. This has become known as biopiracy. Patents have been
granted in the North on such traditional crops as Indian Turmeric, Neem
and Basmati, Andean Quinoa and naturally coloured cottons, Ethiopian Teff,
Amazonian Ayahuasca and Indonesian ilang-ilang.
Some of these patents have now been successfully fought and over-turned.
Indigenous plants that have been in traditional use for generations are
not "novel", which is supposed to be criteria for receiving a patent.
The richest nations of the world are poor in species diversity. The regions
with the greatest wealth of biodiversity are nearer the equator, within
the "third world". There is a massive flow of materials for plant breeding
from the South to the North. Cultivars are taken from farmers' fields
or research establishments in the South and, often after very little "breeding"
work, are patented in the North. Pharmaceutical giants are always on the
look out for plants from which to extract active ingredients for new drugs.
More than 7,000 compounds used in the Western pharmaceuticals are derived
from indigenous Southern plants . Active compounds
from traditional cures have in the past been synthesised chemically in
order to mass produce drugs. The industry is planning to use less expensive
and potentially even more dangerous genetic engineering techniques to
produce new drugs and treatments.
DNA has been collected without knowledge or consent from the Guayami people
in Panama, the Hagahai of New Guinea and the people of the Solomon Isles,
and made subject to patents in the North. In the US a man discovered that
the doctor who operated him had secretly patented cells from his sick
spleen. The California Supreme Court ruled that the man, John Moore, was
not entitled to any rights on his own cells after they had been removed
from his body.
TRIPs is the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property.
TRIPs force WTO member states to grant corporations the right to protect
their 'intellectual property', in seven areas including copyright and
trademark protection, patents and industrial designs.
Under a section of the TRIPS agreement (Section 27.3) all WTO member states
are obliged to have patent legislation in place that covers plant varieties.
The TRIPs agreement is the brainchild of an industry coalition with members
from the US, the EU and Japan. The Intellectual Property Committee (IPC)
took the first initiative, a lobby group that brought together 13 major
US corporations including DuPont and Monsanto. GATT, the body that preceded
the WTO, was selected as the organization through which to enforce patents,
dubbed "Intellectual Property Rights", on the world.
After a lobby campaign of the WTO and at the national level, an industry
paper on the "Basic Framework for GATT Provisions on Intellectual Property"
was presented at the Uruguay Round negotiations in 1988. Not surprisingly,
the position put forth by the US delegation was strikingly similar to
James Enyart of Monsanto commented
"Industry has identified a major problem in international trade. It crafted
a solution, and sold it to our own and other governments."
Powerful US delegations at trade talks are made up of representatives
of corporate industry. The US pushed for TRIPS
to require the fullest patent protection possible worldwide. "Third
world" nations opposed the introduction of any Intellectual Property
Rights (IPR's) into GATT. The EU fought for an exclusion of IPR related
to plant varieties and succeeded in gaining a clause in the treaty allowing
member countries to develop their own patenting system.
The plant patenting system which the US and E.U. would like to see enforced
under WTO rules is UPOV (Union of Protection of new Varieties).
In 1991, the European-led UPOV created a harsh new convention covering
plant varieties that makes it illegal for farmers to save seed and shifts
the burden of proof in cases where farmer may have allegedly broken patent
law from the company to the farmer.
UPOV is based on the needs of industrial agriculture, especially through
its Distinction-Uniformity-Stability criteria.
It promotes chemical dependent hybrids, uniform crops that are more vulnerable
to pests and disease.
The U.S. the World Bank and the WTO are pressurizing countries to adapt
this system, especially the "third world".
In February 1999, UPOV scandalously succeeded in making eleven of the
poorest countries in Africa actually believe that they had to join UPOV
to fulfill their TRIPS obligations. The rules say that as nations with
"least developed" status, these nations had until 2006 to decide
whether to join UPOV or to adapt their own system.
EUROPEAN PATENTS ON LIFE
In 1998 the European Union created its own patent legislation. The European
Patent Directive followed an unprecedented lobbying campaign by the agricultural
and pharmaceutical biotechnology industry that broke all financial records.
The campaign was co-ordinated by EuropaBio, a corporate lobby group formed
in 1996 by all the companies with an interest in biotechnology operating
in Europe including Astra-Zeneca, Novartis, Monsanto Europe, AgrEvo, DuPont,
Nestlé, Novo Nordisk, Rhône-Poulenc, Unilever, Bayer, Akzo Pharma, Eli
Lilly, Hoechst, Hoffmann-La Roche, Sandoz, Schering and SmithKline Beecham.
The industry bodies blackmailed disabled people and patient's groups into
supporting their campaign. People with life threatening diseases were
told that miracle drugs would be developed only if research costs could
be recouped through a patenting system. On the day of the vote a demonstration
of people in wheelchairs zho were carted inside the parliament, bearing
the industry slogan "No patent, No Cure" on yellow T-shirts. MEP's
that had voted against a similar Patent law only two years before were
clearly swayed by emotional blackmail without ever coming to the realisation
that this was an industry and not a patient's campaign. Under the Directive
genes, cells, plants, animals, human body parts and genetically modified
or cloned human embryos and even certain types of genetically engineered
half-human, half-animal are all patentable with few restrictions.
[1.] "TRIPS versus CBD, Global Trade and Biodiversity in Conflict" April
1998, A report by Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN) and The
Gaia Foundation http://www.grain.org/publications/gtbc/issue1.htm
[2.] "The Sustainable Development Effects of the WTO TRIPS Agreement:
A Focus on Developing Countries" 1996, International Institute for Sustainable
Development (IISD) Working Paper, Aaron Cosbey
[3.] "IPRs, Genes, and life-patenting", Chakravarthi Raghavan South-North
Development Monitor SUNS August 1999
[4.] "WTO Millennium Bug: TNC Control Over Global Trade Politics" The
Corporate Europe Observer.
[5.] "TRIPS Traps for Small Farmers, The Impact of Intellectual Property
Rights on Sustainable Food Security and Farm Families Remains to be Felt",
RAFI Genotypes 19 May 1999
[6.] "Forcefeeding Europe: The Biotech Lobby" published by ASEED Europe
SEE ALSO · "No Patents on Life!" A Cornerhouse Briefing http://www.icaap.org/Cornerhouse/briefings/1.html
· "Indigenous Peoples' Seattle Declaration on the occasion of the Third
Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization 30 November - 3 December
"Beyond UPOV: Examples of developing countries preparing non-UPOV sui
generis plant variety protection schemes for compliance with TRIPS", GRAIN
July 1999, http://www.grain.org/publications/reports/nonupov.htm