Thursday, 5 June 2008

Patenting climate genes

Less than a dozen companies have filed 532 patents for plant genes designed to tolerate extreme weather and environmental conditions. While the biotech crops are designed to better survive conditions brought on by climate change, a report looking at the patents warns of how a gene patent monopoly could harm farmers.
"Patenting the 'Climate Genes' and Capturing the Climate Agenda" was complied by the ETC Group, a Canadian-based non-governmental organization focused on socially responsible development related to culture, ecological diversity and human rights.

ETC Group notes that in some cases the companies are working with organizations, research groups and philanthropists. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is providing a $47 million grant for Monsanto and BASF to develop drought-tolerant corn for use in the southern African countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa.
The ETC Group urges for governments meeting at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn (May 19-30) and at the joint United Nations-FAO High-Level Conference on World Food Security and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy (3-5 June 2008) to recommend that governments suspend the granting of all patents on climate change-related genes and traits.

Some experts say that both sides have oversimplified the pros and cons of biotech crop patents. "I don't mind Monsanto developing these tools. I mind that we don't have an economic ecology that lets other companies compete with them," said Richard Jefferson, founder and chief executive of Cambia, a nonprofit institute based in Australia that helps companies worldwide sort through patent holdings so they can build on one another's work instead of stymieing one another. Under the current system for patenting genes, he said, "the little guys shake out and the big guys end up in a place a lot like a cartel." Jefferson characterized the ETC report as extreme in its anti-corporate views but praised it for drawing attention to what he said is a real problem of corporate consolidation in the seed industry. Happily, he said, patent offices are "getting a lot better" about not allowing overly broad gene patents.
GreenBiz 15/05 Patents for Crop Genes Tolerant of Climate Change Tops 530

01/06 CheckBiotech Patent policy and sustainable cellulosic biofuels development
National patents and international rules on patents will be instrumental in the development of biofuels markets—defining how fast that development takes place and who controls and benefits from the next wave of biofuels.
03/06 GGIAR story of the Month June 2008: Fighting for Fair Use of Plant Genetic Resources A nearly 8-year effort to redress a notorious act of biopiracy finally achieved its objective on April 29, 2008, when the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced it was definitely rejecting all patent claims for a yellow-seeded variety of common bean named "Enola".
BBC 30/05 Could GM crops help feed Africa?
In the final part of his series on whether genetically modified food can help solve the world food crisis, BBC News rural affairs correspondent Jeremy Cooke reports from Uganda.
The next FARA Bulletin issue (April-May) will have a thematic focus agriculture and Intellectual Property Rights