Hollow Victory: Enola Bean Patent Smashed At Last (Maybe)

The infamous Enola bean patent, first denounced by ETC Group eight years ago as a textbook case of biopiracy, was struck down yesterday (April 29, 2008) by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in Washington, D.C. One of the most controversial plant patents in history, the effort to defeat it was unprecedented because it involved the United Nations and international plant breeding institutes.

“Many people are calling the PTO’s decision to reject the Enola bean patent a victory, but we’re inclined to call it a travesty,” said Hope Shand of ETC Group. “In essence, the U.S. patent system allowed the owner of a flagrantly unjust patent to legally monopolize markets and destroy competition – for close to half the 20-year patent term. And even now the patent owner could still appeal through the federal court system!” said Shand.

“Worse still, Mexican and U.S. farmers who suffered damages as a result of this unjust monopoly will never be compensated for their losses. Patent law has no mechanism to compensate farmers and indigenous peoples who are victimized by predatory patent abuses,” adds Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group’s office in Mexico City.

According to ETC Group, the eight-year patent challenge is, above all, an indictment of the patent system’s ability to “correct” patent abuses. The request for re-examination of the patent was filed in December 2000. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office declared its preliminary rejection of the patent three years later. Using a series of bureaucratic delays and diversions, the patent owner was allowed to legally extend his exclusive monopoly on a Mexican bean variety for over 8 years.

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