February 13, 2005

Syngenta to let Mega-Genome Patent Lapse: "Daisy-cutter" Patent Bomb Busted

Following 72 hours of negotiations by e-mail, telephone and in-person, the Swiss Gene Giant Syngenta confirmed to ETC Group (11.02.2005), that it would allow its multi-genome patent application covering the flowering sequences in at least 40 plant species to lapse at the European Patent Office (EPO), the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and around the world. Syngenta's announcement follows a month-long campaign launched by ETC Group and supported by farmers' organizations, trade unions and other civil society organizations.

The patent was called the "daisy-cutter" after the world's largest conventional bomb, which has parachuted from US Air Force cargo planes to clear troop-landing sites in Vietnam and during the Gulf and Iraq Wars. The daisy-cutter bomb explodes about three feet above the ground and delivers "shock and awe" by destroying everything living within a radius of 1000 feet. The Swiss company's patent application (WO03000904A2/3) claims, among other things, discovery of the DNA sequence coding for the flowering of the rice crop. Beyond rice, however, the company also claims the sequence as it appears in many other major food crops from wheat to bananas. "Syngenta's application even claimed monopoly over the flowering process in yet-to-be-discovered species that use the same sequence," says Pat Mooney ETC Group's Executive Director. Mooney met with Syngenta in Bern, Switzerland last Thursday and received a telephone call from the company Friday morning confirming it would let the patent application lapse.

Mooney and Andrew Bennett of the Syngenta Foundation debated the patent at a Swissaid Conference on Gene Technologies in the Swiss capital before an audience of 240 government- and civil society- representatives including the Minister of Agriculture of Zambia and a number of other Swiss corporation officials. Hope Shand of ETC Group wrote to Syngenta on January 25 calling upon the company to abandon its patent claims. The company replied in an e-mail dated February 8 suggesting that the company was not pursuing the patent in developing countries. "However, it was ambiguous about whether or not it would maintain its applications in Europe and the United States," Mooney said in the debate. Following the public encounter, Mr. Bennett said he would attempt to clarify the situation as soon as possible. The February 11 phone call from Syngenta made clear that the patent application will be allowed to lapse around the world. Subsequently, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) in Geneva also received a letter from the Corporation confirming that the patent application will be allowed to lapse.

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