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Patents and plant breeders’ rights

GMO plant in biological laboratory
Science photo / Fotolia

Following the decision of the European Patents Office (EPO) to authorise patents on certain products derived from conventional selection methods, many citizens have called on Parliament, as well as the Commission, to take steps in order to clarify existing EU rules and protect plant breeders’ access to biological resources.

Plant breeding is an innovative process that has been practised by farmers and farming communities since the birth of agriculture. For the sake of genetic diversity, it is important to have access to varieties and breeding methods that are not patented.

In response to the decision of the EPO to authorise two patents on tomato and broccoli derived from conventional selection methods, Parliament calls on the Commission to urgently clarify the existing rules – in particular, the Directive on biotechnological inventions – and to forward the clarification to the EPO.

European Parliament resolutions

In its non-legislative resolution on patents and plant breeders’ rights of 17 December 2015, Parliament notes that ‘products obtained from essentially biological processes, such as plants, seeds, native traits and genes, should be excluded from patentability’.

At the same time, Parliament calls on the Commission to clarify the scope and interpretation of Directive 98/44/EC on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions ‘in order to ensure legal clarity regarding the prohibition of the patentability of products obtained from essentially biological processes, and to clarify that breeding with biological material falling under the scope of a patent is permitted’. This directive aims primarily to determine what is and what is not patentable within the framework of advances in techno-scientific research.

Additional information on this resolution is available in this press release of 17 December 2015. Moreover, a summary on the subject of the legal protection of biotechnological inventions has been published on EUR-Lex, the website on which EU laws can be accessed.

Parliament had already, in its resolution of 10 May 2012 on the patenting of essential biological processes, called on the EPO ‘to exclude from patenting products derived from conventional breeding and all conventional breeding methods’.

The European Patents Office (EPO)

The European Patents Office (OEPO) offers inventors a uniform patent application procedure which enables them to obtain patent protection in up to 40 European countries.

The EPO is the executive body of the European Patent Organisation, an intergovernmental organisation that was set up in 1977 on the basis of the European Patent Convention (EPC).

On 25 March 2015, the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO decided to authorise patents on a tomato (G0002/12) and a broccoli (G0002/13) which had been derived from conventional breeding methods.

Previously, the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO had decided in two similar cases regarding broccoli (G2/07) and tomatoes (G1/08) to exclude such processes from patentability on the same legal basis.

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