EPO upholds decision to revoke neem patent

by GRAIN | 9 Mar 2005

TITLE: Landmark Victory in World's First Case Against Biopiracy!! European Patent Office Upholds Decision to Revoke Neem Patent AUTHOR: Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, The Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements PUBLICATION: Press release DATE: 8 March 2005

Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, New Delhi, India The Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)

Press release



Munich, March 8, 2005. In a landmark decision today, the European Patent Office upheld a decision to revoke in its entirety a patent on a fungicidal product derived from seeds of the Neem, a tree indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. The historic action resulted from a legal challenge mounted ten years ago by three Opponents: the renowned Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, Magda Aelvoet, then MEP and President of the Greens in the European Parliament, and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). Their joint Legal Opposition claimed that the fungicidal properties of the Neem tree had been public knowledge in India for many centuries and that this patent exemplified how international law was being misused to transfer biological wealth from the South into the hands of a few corporations, scientists, and countries of the North. Today the EPO's Technical Board of Appeals dismissed an Appeal by the would-be proprietors -- the United States of America and the company Thermo Trilogy -- and maintained the decision of its Opposition Division five years ago to revoke the Neem patent in its entirety, thus bringing to a close this ten-year battle in the world's first legal challenge to a biopiracy patent.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, who travelled from India to be present at today's hearing, commented, "What a lovely celebration for the women of India that this long-awaited decision falls on March 8th, International Women's Day. Denying the patent means upholding the value of traditional knowledge for millions of women not only in India, but throughout the South. The FREE TREE WILL STAY FREE. This victory is the result of extremely long solidarity. It is a victory of committed citizens over commercial interests and big powers."

Magda Aelvoet, Belgian Minister of State and former Health and Environment Minister, was President of the Green Group in the European Parliament when the original Opposition was submitted. Just after the ruling, she commented, "Our victory against biopiracy is threefold. First, it is a victory for traditional knowledge and practices. This is the first time anybody has been able to have a patent rejected on these grounds. Second, it is a victory for solidarity: With the people of developing countries -- who have definitively earned the sovereign rights to their natural resources -- and and with our colleagues in the NGOs, who fought with us against this patent for the last ten years. And third, coming as it does on International Women's Day, this is also a victory for women. The three people who successfully argued this case against the might of the U.S. administration and its corporate allies, were women: Vandana Shiva, Linda Bullard and myself. It can also inspire and help people from developing countries who suffer the same kind of theft but did not think it was possible to combat it."

Linda Bullard, former President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), stated, "We are deeply gratified that through our case the EPO has recognized the intellectual achievements of the South. We were able to establish that traditional knowledge systems can be a means of establishing 'prior art' and thus used to destroy the claims of 'novelty' and 'inventiveness' in these biopiracy patents. This now becomes case law, but the historic precedent must be further developed and transposed into overall international legal frameworks so that this type of theft is no longer possible."

Although two days had been set aside to examine the Appeal, the case was so clear that the Technical Board of Appeals needed only two hours to reach a decision to dismiss the Appeal.

The Opponents were legally represented throughout the ten year battle by Prof. Dr. Fritz Dolder, Professor Intellectual Property with the Faculty of Law at the University of Basel, in Switzerland.* Dr. Dolder explained that a reformulated claim submitted by the patent holders as part of their Appeal was rejected on formal grounds. Subsequently, the main body of the patent was tested with regard to novelty, disclosure, and inventive step -- and revoked irrevocably! This is the first time that the EPO has legally concluded a biopiracy case.

For further information, contact:

Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology: +91 11 -26561868, -26968077, -26535422; email: vshiva(at)vsnl.com; web: http://www.navdanya.org

The Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament: +32 2 2841692; email: msomville(at)europarl.eu.int; web: http://www.greens-efa.org

IFOAM: +49 228 9265016; email: n.sorensen(at)ifoam.org; web: http://www.ifoam.org

* The lawyer for the Opponents, Dr. Fritz Dolder, is also available for questions at fritz.dolder(at)unibas.ch

Author: GRAIN
Links in this article:
  • [1] http://www.navdanya.org
  • [2] http://www.greens-efa.org
  • [3] http://www.ifoam.org