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Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Kein Patent auf Schwein?

The IPKat spotted a rather strange notice on the EPO's website this morning, titled "Im Blickpunkt: Patent auf Schweinezucht" (rough translation: in focus: patent for pig selection). The notice, which is only available in German (even though the language of proceedings of the patent to which it relates is English), relates to EP1651777 granted to Newsham Choice Genetics, formerly known as Monsanto Choice Genetics.  


(right: pigs and cats can live together in perfect harmony [source])

The patent claims a method of selecting pigs based on testing for a particular variation in a particular gene sequence.  The patent does not claim the pigs selected by this method, nor does it lay claim to the particular gene sequence variation.  Nevertheless, the patent has already been the subject of at least 18 attempted oppositions by various individuals and organisations, all of whom appear to have been prompted to do so by the German organisation known as "Kein Patent auf Leben" (handily abbreviated to www.keinpatent.de for their website).  

What puzzles the IPKat is why the EPO is even paying further attention to this (quite clearly spectacularly ill-informed) pressure group.  According to the EPO register, most if not all of the would-be opponents have not paid the opposition fee, so these will be deemed not to have been filed if they do not pay by the final date for doing this (which happens to be tomorrow, 16 April 2009).  All the notices of opposition appear to have been cribbed from KPaL's website here, and are obviously deficient in pretty much all of the usual aspects of oppositions.  The IPKat has not been able to find any advice on this website about how to properly file an opposition, or what grounds might be useful for doing this, and can only assume that KPaL are encouraging people to file fake oppositions merely as an irritant to the EPO.

Can anyone else shed more light on this matter? Did any IPKat readers see the demonstration planned by KPaL scheduled for today? 

UPDATE (17 April): As well as fellow Kat Birgit's comments to this post and in a subsequent post, the following helpful information has been provided by IPKat reader Julian Kothe:

"I just read your post concerning “Kein Patent auf Schwein?” and I cannot provide any information concerning the demonstration planned specifically by KPaL but I found some info regarding today’s demonstrations on the German news website tagesschau.de at http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/schweinepatent106.html. In particular the interview link “Greenpeace Patent-Experte Christoph Then zum Patentstreit” at http://www.tagesschau.de/multimedia/video/video480590.html might help to shed some more light in this matter. Unfortunately, the interview is in German but I translated its essence, which highlights the concerns of Greenpeace as a pressure group. 

Interview Christoph Then (Greenpeace) tagesschau 17:00, 15.04.2009
 
“Then: The issue concerning the patent is that nobody can with certainty predict the scope of the patent. The pigs concerned in the patent are not distinguishable between pigs already held on farms and used for breeding. Thus, this is an issue concerning all pig farmers as the patent, theoretically and at some stage, might extend to their pigs as they are not distinguishable from patented pigs. 
 
News reporter : There appears to be some discrepancy as a spokesman of the EPO said that the patent only concerns the test to identify the gene and farmers would only need to pay fees if they used the test.
 
Then : Yes, the patent falls into 2 parts, the selection of the pigs on the one hand and on the other the selection, breeding and production of the pigs. As patent law provides for the basic principle that if there is a patented method for the production so will be the direct product…We are of the opinion that such patents contradict patent law...”

As far as your statement and question “What puzzles the IPKat is why the EPO is even paying further attention to this (quite clearly spectacularly ill-informed) pressure group.” is concerned I believe that attention is being paid not only because of KPaL but because there are German politicians belonging to the agricultural and ministry of the environment who strongly oppose and voice their concerns concerning the patentability of animals, plants and seeds as evidenced in the recent GM corn ban in Germany (
http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,4179022,00.html?maca=en-tagesschau_englisch-335-rdf-mp)."

Julian further adds the following:
"Following the controversy concerning the recently discussed “patent for pig selection” the issue has caught further political momentum. Unfortunately, the information is only available on tagesschau.de at http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/gentechnik102.html. It appears that the German Federal Minister of Agriculture Ilse Aigner, who already announced the GM corn ban, is in talks with German Federal Minister of Justice, Brigitte Zypries, to discuss a prohibition of livestock breeding patents in Germany. According to Aigner “it would be unacceptable that a company patents genetically modified genes of an animal, eventually demanding patent fees from breeders, whose animals appear with this gene…[adding further]…I regard that present European legislation concerning patent law is in need of rectification” (tagesschau, 18.04.2009, 11:14am). 
 
Why this topic is so widely politicised in Germany?
 
The article “Ich habe nichts gegen gruene Gentechnik”, which translates as “I am not against green genetic engineering” by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ.net) at 
http://www.faz.net/s/Rub594835B672714A1DB1A121534F010EE1/Doc~E2E172490B21D4065A0B82A067E105840~ATpl~Ecommon~Scontent.html (in German only) on 18 April 18, 2009 published a poll conducted by Emnid, a market research institution, which suggest that 3 of 4 Germans welcomed the recent GM corn ban and indicates the public perception towards genetic engineering.
 
This makes me wonder but could the political motivation stem from the forthcoming European election as well as the German general election later on this year.

Thanks, Julian!

12 comments:

Axel H Horns said...

See also my report here:

http://tinyurl.com/c9ewoq

Axel H Horns

Anonymous said...

Perhaps not fake oppositions, but maybe clueless ones....

Birgit said...

David you beat me to this story!

Alex Horn's post explains it all beautifully. You really have to see this notice in the overall political context in Germany and in the light of the news that certain types of GM maize were banned by the Agriculture ministry.

Latest reports in English on the topic of "Super Pig Patent":

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,4182020,00.html and

http://www.euronews.net/2009/04/16/german-protests-against-super-pig-patent/

Birgit said...

For those of you that can read German, the FAZ newspaper has this article today - no Schnitzel patents...

http://tiny.cc/DjocF

Anonymous said...

Sadly the protest occurred outside the main EPO (Isar) building in Munich while most people (Pres included) have decamped a while ago to other buildings while long-term re-building work is carried out.

Anonymous said...

Why do the authors of this blog never miss an opportunity to criticise any institution (EPO, ECJ etc) which, heaven forbid, fails to produce the communication in English? Learn another language and stop boring your readership. Please!

Anonymous said...

Since this is clearly a well-organised and -funded campaign about an egregiously misunderstood matter, the question is: who profits from misrepresenting the Newsham patent in this way?

Politicians are normally a reactive, not proactive, lot. They may be riding on the coattails of this protest (just like FFII and their bearded guru), but they are clearly not the originators. Likewise the NGOs such as Greenpeace, who are always eager to shine in the limelight of such protests, since it always raises much-needed funds.

So, please excuse me if I may sound like a conspiracy theorist, but behind all of this I suspect the hand of large European agrobusinesses, who, despite (or perhaps because) they've been so generously fed at the trough of the Common Agricultural Policy, have never bothered to invest much in R&D. They nevertheless clearly wish to keep a free hand in exploiting the inventions of others, or, if this is not possible, lock their more productive competitors out of the European market. Considering who are those largest landowners in Europe, by the Grace of God, they may be a formidable opponent indeed...

gyg3s said...

@anon2:17

"Considering who are those largest landowners in Europe,"

So, who are the largest landowners in Europe?

(I read somewhere that the Knights of Malta owned half of Italy and hence got a substantial amount of money from Europe but that could be rubbish).

Anonymous said...

"By the Grace of God" is a bit of a hint. (I will not go further, lest I render myself guilty of lèse-majesté).

gyg3s said...

@anon5:54

I'm familliar with Kevin Cahill's, Who Owns Britain. Will now try and get, Who Owns the World by the same author.

Considering what Cahill suspects about Airey, I understand your caution.

Anonymous said...

I would hazzard a guess that the EPO has been bombarded with German language enquiries about this patent and therefore attempted to reduce this by making the announcement, hoping that people would klick on the links rather than call the EPO. Also, the protest held yesterday was almost exclusively attended by Germans, whether farmers or activists. In the short time available, no translation was considered necesssary. Of course there is the question as to whether the EPO is entitled to bring attention to the grant of the patent in this way while the opposition period is pending - would this not have the effect of potentially raising the costs for the patent proprietor unnecessarily?

Anonymous said...

Dozens of patents like this are granted by the biotechnology directorates of the EPO every month. Indeed in this case, there were no claims to animals and no claims to gene sequences. The claims were directed only to a method of identifying desirable traits in animals using inventive technical means (not essentially biological processes). The only reason for the uproar would appear to be that this invention was particularly useful for genotyping pigs, which is big business in Germany and in Bavaria in particular. Hhhmmm could this be another case of "Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle" .

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