The European Commission wants to offer clarity and legal certainty about patenting the natural traits of vegetables and other plants through further interpretation of the biotech directive. This was announced by European Commissioner for the Internal Market Elżbieta Bieńkowska at the symposium ‘Finding the Balance’ in Brussels, organised by Minister for Agriculture Martijn van Dam in the context of the Netherlands EU Presidency.
‘This is a definite breakthrough in the discussion on patent law and plant breeders’ rights,’ the minister said in his opening speech. ‘The Netherlands has always opposed the patenting of natural plant traits and biological processes. A monopoly on fruit and vegetables is illogical and undesirable. Nature belongs to us all. It’s great that the Commission is taking this step. We’re not there yet, but a major hurdle has now been overcome.’
Plant breeders’ rights
The discussion about patenting natural characteristics began in 2012 and intensified in 2015 when the European Patent Office board of appeal ruled that products obtained through crossing or other breeding techniques can be patented. This goes against the traditional plant breeders’ right that allows them to further develop each other’s findings.
‘The Netherlands is a global player when it comes to growing and breeding plants,’ Mr Van Dam said. ‘The sector profits from the free availability of biological material. This promotes innovation in plant breeding which in turn improves both the Netherlands’ competitive position and, ultimately, global food security.’
At the symposium in Brussels, Commissioner Bieńkowska indicated that the Commission is working on a closer interpretation of the existing biotech directive. The Commission believes that amending the directive itself is not the answer. The interpretative declaration will be presented by the Commission by the end of this year. It will be part of a broader package of practical solutions put forward at the symposium. Examples include more transparency, better access to biological material and improved cooperation between the European Patent Office and the Community Plant Variety Office.
Compliments of the Netherlands EU Presidency 2016