Several large companies in the European seed sector have urged the European Commission to allow patent laws and intellectual property in agriculture and horticulture. The seed developers believe that they should be able to claim ownership of the plant and vegetable varieties they have developed.
The classical breeding of plants, such as crosses, does not fall under European patent law, the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich finally decided in May, after years of legal uncertainty about the patenting of organic plant material.
The European Parliament has long argued against this, and a final decision is expected this autumn. In September, the European Parliament passed a resolution against granting patents on plants because it feared that this would give one or more multinationals a monopoly on plant breeding. This could cause food prices to rise.
In 2015, the EPO granted two patents, for a sweet pepper and a broccoli variety. After interference from Brussels, the agency decided to stop issuing patents in 2017. There are fears that legally enshrining 'property rights' on genetically engineered 'natural' material could ultimately have a negative impact on small and medium-sized farmers.
IP (Intellectual Property) rights include patents, copyrights and trademarks, and are intended to enable companies to protect their inventions and creations in order to be more competitive around the world.
Patent applications recognized before July 2017 remain valid. Applications submitted before 1 July can still be recognized. A year ago, according to the Patent Office, there were still 250 applications (plus 19 that were objected to), but it is not clear whether they were all filed before the summer of 2017. Applications submitted after July 1, 2017 will be rejected by the Patent Office.
The European Commission endorses the importance of these rights and states that the EU should better protect intellectual property rights. Euroseeds seed and plant developers say that effective plant breeding is essential for improving sustainable agricultural and horticultural products. It added that the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategies “will not achieve their goals without plant breeding”.