More patents on life set to go ahead - Greenpeace demands EU Patent Directive to be scrapped
Brussels/Hamburg, 5th October, 2000 – Greenpeace today exposed an application for a patent on human/animal embryos to the European Patent Office (EPO) and called for the EU Patent Directive to be scrapped as it allows patents on life.
Greenpeace has researched the files of the European Patent Office (EPO) and found applications for "patents on life": Two companies, Stem Cell Sciences (SCS) (Australia) and Biotransplant (USA) have jointly applied for a patent covering the cloning of embryos, including human embryos, as well as mixed species embryos from pigs and humans. In addition the companies applied for an exclusive right for genetic manipulation of embryos produced with their technology. (1)
The SCS already owns an exclusive right to the University of Edinburgh’s controversial human embryo patent, which was exposed to the public by Greenpeace last February. (2)
In their application, the two companies reveal in detail that their scientists have already produced embryos, which were a mix of the two species, a human and a pig. This was done by removing the nucleus from the pig’s egg cells (oocytes), and replacing them with those taken from human foetuses. The resulting embryos were then grown for about a week. The companies specifically apply for a broad patent that would cover not only pig, cow and sheep but also human embryos.
No specific, concrete medical reasons were given for undertaking the experiments to produce mixed-species embryos. The experiments were performed mainly to demonstrate that such nuclear transfer technology could be applied to humans as well as animals, with the intention to then obtain a broad patent on the technology used and on the embryos produced with that technology.
"The existing patenting regime is a driving force for this kind of speculative research in the rush to claim ownership of new techniques. That is why Greenpeace demands that the EU Patent Directive has to be changed to prohibit patents on life”, said Christoph Then, Genetic Engineer-ing campaigner for Greenpeace Germany.
Under the new EU Patent Directive, this patent is likely to be granted by the European Patent Office without any major problems. Because of the loopholes, the EU Patent Directive in many cases treats human embryos as biological material isolated from human body, and therefore patentable.
“These companies simply exploit the legal loopholes of the existing EU Patent Directive. As the European Patent Office interprets all exemption from patentability as narrowly as possible – in other words grants patents unless they are explicitly forbidden – life is not covered by any exclusion from patenting. Europe is about to take up a scandalous practice which can not be reversed unless the EU governments urgently take action to overhaul the EU Patent directive before it is implemented into national laws of the member states”, Then added. Greenpeace calls the EU Patent Directive to be changed in such a way that it would prohibit patents on life.
For more information: Christoph Then, Genetic Engineer-ing Campaigner for Greenpeace Germany, Tel: +49 40 30618395 or +49 171 8780832 (mob); Greenpeace Germany Press Office, Stefan Krug and Michael Hopf, Tel: +49-4030618 343 / 345 Greenpeace European Unit, Lorenzo Consoli, Tel: +32 2280 1400 or +32 7595 5465 (mob); Greenpeace International Press Office, Teresa Merilainen, Tel: +31-20-5236637 or +31 625031001 (mob).
(1) Stem Cells Sciences and Biotransplant patent application, WO 99/21415, filing published internationally 6th May, 1999.
(2) Patent EP 695 351 which the European Patent Office in Munich granted in December 1999, included removing cells from human embryos, genetically manipulating these cells and cultivating genetically manipulated embryos from them. The EPO admitted it made a mistake by granting this patent. - Over 10,000 people have filed an objection to this patent, which was the biggest wave of objections ever against a European patent. The governments of Germany and the Netherlands also filed oppositions.
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