On February 3, 2014, 34 farmers’, breeders’, environmental and development organizations from 27 European countries filed an opposition to a patent from Syngenta, the Swiss agrochemical corporation, which notably is one of the three foreign companies designated to plant their Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) corn varieties in Vietnam.
Why this broad opposition to a particular patent? On May 8, 2013, the European Patent Organization (EPO) had granted a patent (EP 2140023B1) to Syngenta for insect resistant pepper (capsicum) plants. In fact, as it is stated in the press release of the coalition of organizations that filed the opposition, “a wild pepper plant from Jamaica was crossed with commercial pepper plants.” The coalition argues that: “Since the wild plant is resistant to various pests, the patented resistance already existed in nature. However, Syngenta claims the ownership to insect-resistant pepper plants, their seeds, and their fruits, although the patented plants are products of conventional breeding. Such plants should definitely not be patentable under European patent law.”
Developing countries (still) maintain a great bio-diversity, and countries like Jamaica and Vietnam are especially privileged, and have as such interest to safeguard their bio-diversity. Ethically, it is highly questionable when multinational corporations make use of indigenous knowledge and/or local varieties, apply conventional breeding techniques, and in the end succeed in obtaining the patent for what they claim to be ‘their invention’. This is what Dr. Vandana Shiva would call “bio-piracy”.