Biopiracy The Real Issues
The Government Is Avoiding
epidemic of biopiracy is an assault on our living heritage of biodiversity
and cumulative innovation embodied in the traditional knowledge of agriculture
and medicine. In the long run, it determines livelihoods and economic
sovereignty because what is commonly available becomes an intellectual
property of a company for which royalty must be paid.
It is the
governments duty to protect the resources and heritage of the country
and prevent its usurpation by foreign interests and commercial corporations.
The governments affidavit is in effect arguing that the government will
allow the theft of our heritage and the public good that belongs to
the Indian people.
a patent is taken on plants and seeds derived from Indian biological
resources, biopiracy have occurred. Challenging and stopping such biopiracy
is the duty of government. The governments repeated failure to legally
challenge biopiracy has forced the petitioner to take up such challenges
on behalf of the Indian people, and to protect the public interest and
the national interest.
refers to the use of intellectual property systems to legitimize the
exclusive ownership and control over biological resource and biological
products and processes that have been used over centuries in non-industrialized
cultures. Patent claims over biodiversity and indigenous knowledge that
are based on the innovation, creativity and genius of the people of
the Third World are acts of ?biopiracy?. Since a ?patent? is given for
invention, a biopiracy patent denies the innovation embodied in indigenous
knowledge. The rush to grant patents and reward invention has led corporations
and governments in the industrialized world to ignore the centuries
of cumulative, collective innovation of generations of rural communities.
is an exclusive right to make, sell and distribute the patented product.
Patents on biodiversity imply that corporations who own patents get
exclusive rights to the production and distribution of seeds, livestock
and medicine. This establishes monopolies on food and health, makes
it illegal for farmers to save and exchange seed, and prevents decentralized,
pluralistic economies for the production of food and medicine. It also
encourages ?Biopiracy? or theft of our indigenous knowledge.
The new IPR
laws embodied in the TRIPs agreement of WTO have unleashed an epidemic
of the piracy of nature's creativity and millennia of indigenous innovation.
RFSTE/ Navdanya started the campaign against biopiracy with the Neem
Campaign in 1994 and mobilized 1,00,000 signatures against neem patents
and filed a legal opposition against the USDA and WR Grace patent on
the fungicidal properties of neem (no. 436257 B1) in the European Patent
Office (EPO) at Munich, Germany. Along with RFSTE, the International
Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) of Germany and Ms.
Magda Alvoet, former Green Member of the European Parliament were party
to the challenge. The patent on Neem was revoked in May 2000 and it
was reconfirmed on 8th March 2005 when the EPO revoked in entirety the
controversial patent, and adjudged that there was "no inventive
step" involved in the fungicide patent, thus confirming the ?prior
art? of the use of Neem.
Navdanya started a campaign against Basmati biopiracy (Patent No. 5663484)
of a US company RiceTec. On Aug 14th 2001 Navdanya achieved another
victory against biopiracy and patent on life when the United States
Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) revoked a large section of the patent
on Indian Basmati rice by the US corporations RiceTec Inc. These included
(i) the generic title of the RiceTec patent No. 5663484, which earlier
referred to Basmati rice lines; (ii) the sweeping and false claims of
RiceTec having `invented?, traits of rice seeds and plants including
plant height, grain length, aroma which are characteristics found in
our traditional Basmati varieties and (iii) claims to general methods
of breeding which was also piracy of traditional breeding done by farmers
and our scientists (of the 20 original claims only three narrow ones
major victory against biopiracy for Navdanya came in October 2004 when
the European Patent Office in Munich revoked Monsanto?s patent on the
Indian variety of wheat ?Nap Hal?. This was the third consecutive victory
on the IPR front after Neem and Basmati, making it the third consecutive
victory. This was made possible under the Campaign against Patent on
Life as well as against Biopiracy respectively. MONSANTO, the biggest
seed corporation, was assigned a patent (EP 0445929 B1) on wheat on
21 May 2003 by the European Patent Office in Munich under the simple
title ?plants?. On January 27th 2004 Research Foundation for Science
Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) along with Greenpeace and Bharat Krishak
Samaj (BKS) filed a petition at the European Patent Office (EPO), Munich,
challenging the patent rights given to Monsanto on Indian landrace of
wheat, Nap Hal. The patent was revoked in October 2004 and it once again
established the fact that the patents on biodiversity, indigenous knowledge
and resources are based on biopiracy and there is an urgent need to
ban all patents on life and living organisms including biodiversity,
genes and cell lines.
actions, we have won three-biopiracy battles and have thus contributed
to the defense of farmers' rights, indigenous knowledge and biodiversity.
Navdanya?s focus on collective, cumulative innovation embodied in indigenous
knowledge has created a worldwide movement for the defence of the intellectual
rights of communities.
in the EPO forced the EPO to recognize that Monsanto?s ?Naphal? patent
was a biopiracy patent. Instead of challenging the US patents on ?Naphal?,
the government is making excuses to avoid performing its duty. It seems
instead to be wanting to help the biopirates in their biopiracy.
excuses the government has given are:
445929 is not valid in India, and it has no adverse impact, therefore
no action is to be taken. (p 1.4) (The petitioner is fully aware that
the EU patent is not valid in India. But the EU patent was given for
a variety derived from Indian genetic material. Hence, we needed to
intervene. The EPO recognized that the patent was based on biopiracy.
However, the government is refusing to admit what the EPO has already
The US Patent
No. 5763741 on a variety derived from an Indian variety with claims
covering the unique properties of the Indian variety need not be challenged
because the patent expires on 18th February 2010. A theft is a theft.
Whether the patent expires 2007 or 2010 is not the issue. The main issue
is that the properties and traits which Monsanto is claiming as their
?creation? are derived from an Indian variety. This is relevant not
just for this variety but for the hundreds of thousands of India?s traditional
varieties. Tomorrow Monsanto will claim patents on varieties derived
from our salt tolerant varieties, or our flood resistant varieties,
or draught resistant varieties.
A broad patent
on varietal traits derived from traditional Indian varieties is an act
of biopiracy in itself. If such trends continue, and precedence is established
that Indian biodiversity is up for grabs we will loose our heritage
and economic sovereignty. That is why precedence must be established
by challenging biopiracy. The petitioner has done it in the case of
the EU patent. The government must do so at least in the case of the
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