Conventionally selected (non-GMO) plants and animals cannot be patented. This is the verdict issued on May 14, 2020 by the Enlarged Board of Appeal (the court of law of the European Patent Office). All of this seems obvious, but yet, companies like Bayer (Bayer-Monsanto), Syngenta and Carlsberg have done their best to avoid it. Without patents, they cannot control and benefit from the biological information contained in these living beings! (Translated by Alissa D’Vale)
The good news did not happen by chance: it is the result of a long process, done by many people. Among them, the members of WeMove Europe, – an independent organization that aims to mobilize citizens to shape a better Europe in the present, future generations and for the good of the planet – who signed the petitions, shared them with their acquaintances, or have financially contributed to the campaigns.
In 2016, WeMove Europe joined a coalition of organizations, mainly German, fighting against patents filed on broccoli, tomatoes, barley or salmon. Together, they quickly mobilized beyond frontiers to make this new campaign a true European effort.
Just a few months later, the petition initiated by this great alliance had over 800.000 signatures! Comprised of citizens who rejected the patentability and commercialization of living beings for the benefit of multinationals.
The European Patent Office (EPO) did not consider this single petition sufficient, so it was necessary to launch one of the largest actions of official objections in the institution’s history. Around 65.000 complaints were drafted, signed by citizens from all over Europe, against a tomato patent. An unprecedented moment for the EPO, suddenly surpassed by so many objections.
In June 2017, there was a large rally in Munich, the city where the EPO headquarters are located, but also known for the Oktoberfest, the worldwide famous beer festival that celebrates the city’s brewing tradition. Taking this into account, 180.000 signatures were delivered – attached to a petition against a patent filed on barley and brewing at the EPO headquarters – using a traditional 6-horse “beer car”.
A month later, in July 2017, the first success was achieved in Brussels. Thanks to numerous campaigns, the EU clarified its position: plants and animals are not human inventions, but rather natural ones, as such, they are common goods that cannot be patented.
From the EPO’s side, the decision was not fully accepted: authorizations for pending patent applications were suspended, but new applications were accepted.
This fact motivated a new mobilization in Munich a year later to keep up the pressure, by simply inviting them to the Oktoberfest! Beer lovers had to pass in front of the EPO headquarters to reach the festival site. Volunteers from WeMove Europe and other associated organizations distributed flyers and banners. “No to the patent on barley and beer!”: festival assistants became protesters, right in front of the EPO.
Finally, in the summer of 2019, a broad coalition of environmental and agricultural organizations signed an open letter directed to the Patent Office. This time, the patents involved did not only refer to plants, but also to animals such as pigs, sheep and fish species, in this case, salmon and the trout.
All of these moments represent a little of the episode of “David against Goliath”: a fight animated by citizens and activists against pressure groups and the assets of multinationals. But here is the result: on May 14, 2020, the Enlarged Board of Appeal issued the verdict. It is a victory, with the hope that this decision will end a decade of legally absurd and chaotic decisions by the EPO.
Like other victories, this one is the result of a mixture of good arguments, strong and experienced partners and a great international mobilization of citizens.
WeMove Europe, No Patents on Seeds and Campact.de contributed, thanks to their members who signed, gave or shared the calls. These three organizations became partners precisely because it was a European problem that could only be solved at the European level.
The authentic driving forces of this campaign were the activists of No Patents on Seeds. It is thanks to their excellent experience and continuous research [available here https://www.no-patents-on-seeds.org/] that the information to mobilize beyond borders was available at the right time.
We are celebrating a victory but knowing that companies will look for gaps and will continue to try to transform the common good into a source of greed.