The European Patent Office (EPO) decided on April 6 not to revoke the patent on Monsanto's Roundup Ready soya, which had been contested by rival genetically-modified (GM) grain producer Syngenta as well as by Greenpeace Germany and two private individuals. The Patent Office ruled that the patent, which was first granted in 1996, "is to be maintained in limited form"; the patent describes methods for producing genetically modified soya resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. Greenpeace immediately hit back at the decision, saying it "contravened law, life and common sense".

Syngenta and Greenpeace: Plants excluded from patentability

Syngenta and Greenpeace had first filed oppositions to the granting of the patent in 1997 – they argued, among other things, that the patent issued concerned plant varieties, which as such are excluded from patentability. Following proceedings in April 2000, the patent was limited compared to the version originally granted; appeals against the decision were then filed by Syngenta, Greenpeace and the private individuals in March 2001.

Patent Office: biotech inventions "in principle patentable"

The EPO ruled that the patent should be maintained on the basis that biotechnological inventions "are in principle patentable" according to the European Patent Convention (EPC) and EU Directive 98/44/EC on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions. The EPO noted that according to the EPC and the EU Directive, "European patents are not granted in respect of plant or animal varieties or essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals; but animals and plants are not excluded from patentability if the technical feasibility of the invention is not confined to a particular plant or animal variety".

Greenpeace: a ruling "against common sense"

Greenpeace lashed out at the decision, accusing the Patent Office of "ruling against common sense". The decision, the organisation said, "can pave the way for all biotech companies to patents on seeds". This "opens the door", according to Greenpeace, "for Monsanto and other biotech companies to exert further control over our food through monopolies on the availability and production of crops". Greenpeace argues that the decision means that "if farmers start growing Monsanto's seeds, the harvest could become the property of the company in the end". The organisation called for a global ban for patents on seeds.


GMO's: European Patent Office rules not to revoke Monsanto patent. Europe Information Agriculture (April 21st, 2005)


  GM patents in Europe