The Golden Rice AstraZeneca saga is a case study in public science's failure to understand and address patent issues. In justifying their surrender of Vitamin A enriched GM rice to the giant corporation, the researchers claim they couldn't navigate the 70+ intellectual and tangible property conflicts that could potentially scuttle their work. There are likely no more than 11 - and possibly as few as 4, patent conflicts and one outstanding tangible property issue. A public sector group - including the people Golden Rice is intended to help - should meet to debate all the options and alternatives. The contract and the events surrounding it should be investigated.
In a split 2-1 decision, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal ruled in favour of granting a patent to Harvard Medical School for the oncomouse, a mouse genetically engineered to carry a cancer-causing gene. The decision marks another point in the 15-year battle in the Canadian courts over whether Mother Nature or a Harvard scientist invented the mouse and its offspring.
Two days of contentious debate on Terminator has ruptured the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Advisory Board on Agricultural Biotechnology. Terminator technology, the genetic engineering of plants to produce sterile seeds, has been widely condemned as a dangerous and morally offensive application of agricultural biotechnology, because over 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved seeds.
USDA ignited the worldwide controversy in March 1998 when it won the first of three patents on genetic seed sterilization, which it holds jointly with Delta & Pine Land - the world's largest cotton seed company.
GM (genetically modified) crops may be a fiasco on the farm, but Monsanto and its partner Scotts (Ohio, USA), are hoping that GM grass will be a sensation in suburbia. A page-one story in the New York Times, July 9th, reports that Scotts Company in collaboration with Monsanto and Rutgers University is developing genetically modified grass for suburban lawns and golf courses (David Barboza, 'Ground-Level Genetics, for the Perfect Lawn,' New York Times, July 9, 2000, p. 1.). Scotts predicts that the market for GM grass could sprout to a whopping $10 billion. (By contrast, the entire commercial market for crop seeds in the US is worth approximately $5 billion per annum.) Monsanto and Scotts are developing herbicide tolerant strains that can withstand spraying of Monsanto's blockbuster weedkiller Roundup, as well as genetically altered, slow-growing ('mow-me-less') grass. Just around the dogleg, Scotts and Monsanto foresee GM grass in designer colours.
In the face of mounting evidence of its commercialization, the Fifth Conference of the Parties (COP 5) to the Biodiversity Convention (CBD) failed to heed the warnings of most of the world's nations to ban the Terminator technology. 'By not responding to the calls made by many of the nations of the world, a minority of COP delegates from the North ultimately abdicated their responsibility to international food security and biodiversty,' said Julie Delahanty of RAFI.
Despite information about new patents and field trials, and the strong opposition to Terminator and genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs)* expressed clearly by most of the world's nations, the CBD approved a proposal coming from its Scientific Advisory Body (called SBSTTA). That proposal recommends that GURTs not be approved for field-testing or be commercialized until more scientific data can be gathered on its potential impacts. The text also states that Parties may choose to establish a complete moratorium on these technologies at the national level.
The Coalition Against Biopiracy presented these awards for the most egregious cases of biopiracy when the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity Convention met in Nairobi, May 2000. A one page table.
The Coalition Against BioPiracy (CAB) presents the much un-coveted 'Hook' at the Biodiversity Convention in Nairobi.
1999 saw at least seven new Terminator patents, and more than one field trial of genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs). Governments meeting at COP5 in Nairobi (15-26 May) must act decisively to ban Terminator and call for a moratorium on field testing and commercial sale of GURTs. 'This is the litmus test for the CBD s much-touted precautionary principle and the Biosafety Protocol negotiated last January,' Silvia Ribeiro of RAFI warns, 'If the Convention can't agree on an all-out ban of the Terminator as a blatant threat to biodiversity, then it can't be trusted and the Protocol shouldn't be ratified.'
The Rural Advancement Foaundation International (RAFI), an international civil society organization based in Canada, announced today that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) holds two new patents on the controversial Terminator technology, the genetic engineering of plants to render their seeds sterile. If commercialized, Terminator would make it impossible for farmers to save seeds from their harvest, forcing them to return to the commercial seed market every year.
While UN Agencies and Governments protest, and Gene Giants morph and maneuver, work on Terminator and Traitor Technologies goes full speed ahead. Genetic trait control technology is already being tested in the field. Can commercialization be far behind?