January 04, 2001

Enola Bean Patent Challenged

'This patent has caused great economic hardship for farmers in northern Mexico, and we welcome attempts to overturn it,' said Miguel Tachna Felix, spokesman for the Agricultural Association of Rio Fuerte in Sinaloa, Mexico which represents 22,000 farmers in northern Mexico. Felix is referring to a legal challenge of a US patent on a yellow bean of Mexican origin.

On 20 December 2000 the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT - based in Cali, Colombia) filed a formal request for re-examination of US patent no. 5,894,079 - also known as the yellow bean or 'Enola bean' patent -- at the US Patent & Trademark Office in Washington, DC. CIAT is one of 16 international research centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) - the world's largest network of developing country agricultural researchers. CIAT's gene bank holds more than 27,000 samples of Phaseolus (dry bean) seeds, among other crop species.

'CIAT's action strikes a blow against biopiracy and protects the integrity of designated germplasm, which it holds in-trust for the world's farming community,' observes Hope Shand of RAFI, 'The legal challenge is a very positive step,' said Shand. Joachim Voss, Director General of CIAT, and his staff have energetically pursued the patent challenge, which is also supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Almost one year ago, RAFI denounced the yellow bean patent as 'Mexican bean biopiracy' and demanded that the patent be legally challenged and revoked. RAFI formally requested that FAO and the CGIAR investigate the patent as a likely violation of their 1994 Trust agreement that obliges them to keep designated crop germplasm in the public domain and off-limits to intellectual property claims. (For further background, please see 'Mexican Bean Biopiracy,' RAFI Geno-Types, 15 January 2000.)

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