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The tomato opposition

(c) Arche Noah Schiltern

Appeal against tomato patent

While the European Patent Convention (EPC) indicates that patents on plants and conventional breeding are outside of its scope, the European Patent Office continues to interpret the law in a broad fashion, granting patents it should not.

In 2015, it has in this context granted a highly controversial patent for the Swiss corporation Syngenta: The patent EP1515600 concerns tomatoes with a high level of flavonol, which is considered to bring high health benefits. The patented invention encompasses plants, seeds and fruits. But this so-called “invention” is actually a simple cross-breeding of conventional tomatoes originating from Peru and Chile.

So, in May 2016, ARCHE NOAH, the coalition No Patents on Seeds!, as well as 31 other organisations officially appealed against Syngenta’s tomato patent before the EPO. In total, 65.000 individuals from 59 countries made this appeal the largest group opposition ever filed in Europe against a patent on a plant! Our common goal is the revocation of the EP1515600.

Now the EPO has to recheck the legality of the tomato patent. We are optimistic, even though the opposition proceedings are likely to take several years. Cross-breeding with wild tomatoes from Peru and Chile can simply not be classified as an inventive achievement! Worse, it is hidden biopiracy as the countries of origin of those seeds and plants are robbed of their biological wealth while one big corporation pockets the profit.

There is a realistic chance that this patent will be revoked. But in the end, it is sad that appeals like this one are needed as in theory patents on conventional plants fall outside of the scope of the European Patent Convention. It is in the hands of the involved politicians to clarify once and for all: No patents on conventional plants and animals!