P A N U P S
Pesticide Action Network
NGOs Challenge W.R. Grace's "Species" Patent on Soybeans
December 8. 1994
On December 1, 1994, the Rural Advancement Foundation
International (RAFI) filed opposition at the European Patent
Office to W.R. Grace's soybean "species" patent. The patent,
#301,749 B1, issued on March 4, 1994, covers all forms of
genetically engineered soybean plants and seeds --
irrespective of the genes used or the transformation
technique employed. The patent was awarded to Agracetus, Inc.
a biotechnology company that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of
W.R. Grace Co. of Boca Raton, Florida, U.S.
RAFI's protest is supported by a wide range of non-
governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide, including
international development NGOs, indigenous peoples'
organizations, farm and environmental organizations, from
both the North and South.
RAFI is asking the European Patent Office to revoke the W.R.
Grace patent because it fails to meet standard criteria for
patentability, i.e. it is neither novel nor non-obvious. The
notice of opposition filed by RAFI states that W.R. Grace's
broad patent claim is not substantiated by the information
disclosed in the patent application, and that use of their
technology was obvious given previously reported
breakthroughs by the company and other scientists.
RAFI also cites ethical and moral reasons for revocation of
the patent, claiming that it is a threat to world food
security. The patent gives W.R. Grace exclusive monopoly
control of all genetically- engineered soybean varieties.
Soybean is one of the world's most important food crops,
valued at US$27,000 million annually. The patent allows the
company to exclude others from using their technology, and to
set conditions for access. Monopolization of this technology
will undoubtedly affect the cost of research on soybeans, as
well as the price of transgenic soybean seed, according to
RAFI. Under patent law, it is illegal for farmers to save
transgenic soybean seed harvested on their land for re-
The international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)
protesting W.R. Grace's species patent believe that it has
far-reaching effects beyond the European Community. Grace has
also applied for a broad soybean patent in Canada and the
United States, and a related patent in Australia.
In response to international controversy over their species-
wide patents on soybeans and cotton, W.R. Grace has stated
that it will allow free licensing of its patent to all
government and academic researchers upon request. In their
press release, RAFI calls this offer "nothing more than a
clever public relations gimmick for the purpose of deflecting
criticism of their patent and clearing the way for additional
broad patents to be issued in the future." RAFI points out
that the offer of free licenses could change with time, and
is not required or enforceable by law.
In addition to the European challenge, W.R. Grace's broad
crop patents are under fire in the U.S., Canada and India.
The company's patent on transgenic cotton is currently being
challenged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and another
anonymous party in the United States. The government of India
announced earlier this year that it intends to revoke the
W.R. Grace cotton patent. The Canadian Environmental Law
Association has filed an initial letter of protest on behalf
of the Rural Advancement Foundation International challenging
Grace's soybean application in Canada.
Many scientists have voiced concerns about the potential
impact of "species" patents on the future of molecular
biology research. If such a broad based patent is in fact
possible, it would have a direct effect on the ability of
other researchers, both public and private to continue
efforts to improve the crops. To date, the majority of field
tests of novel genetically engineered organisms developed by
corporations involved in this type of research have focused
on herbicide resistance.
Sources: RAFI press release, December 1, 1994; Global
Pesticide Campaigner, November 1993.
Contact: Hope Shand, RAFI, Box 655, Pittsboro, NC 27312;
phone (919) 542-1396; fax (919) 542-0069; email
email@example.com; Jean Christie, International Liaison
RAFI-Australia; phone (61-79) 394-792; e-mail
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