In a controversial move, the European Patent Office (EPO) has decided to uphold Syngenta’s patent on classically bred peppers with natural resistance to whitefly nine years after the objection procedure began. This decision has drawn sharp criticism from various organizations, including Bionext, which raised objections to the patent in 2014.
Despite a 2017 ruling that properties occurring naturally in plants and products of essentially biological processes cannot be patented, the EPO’s approval of Syngenta’s patent has ignited fears for the future of the seed industry. In addition, several organizations are concerned that the EPO’s decision could set a dangerous precedent for the hundreds of other patent applications filed before July 1, 2017, that relate to the natural properties of fruits and vegetables.
Bionext, among the organizations opposing the patent, has expressed disappointment in the decision, stating that Syngenta did not invent anything but merely used standard breeding practices. The group has also raised concerns that the approval of the patent could lead to a more limited range of plant varieties, higher prices, and greater dependence on large seed companies for farmers and market gardeners.
The decision is also worrying for the future of gene banks. Seed companies that extract genetic material from gene banks must sign a statement promising not to apply for a patent. However, the EPO’s approval of Syngenta’s patent raises questions about the effectiveness of this statement and the potential for other companies to apply for patents on naturally occurring properties.
Although Bionext plans to discuss the next steps with international partners, it is unlikely that they will appeal the ruling, given that the patent is set to expire in 2027. Nevertheless, the EPO’s decision could have significant implications for the seed industry, and it remains to be seen how it will impact future patent applications.
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