Saturday, December 24, 2005
The Enola Bean Patent Case
The ETC Group
just released an update on a case of bio-patenting:
Background: Almost six years ago, ETC Group (then RAFI) denounced the Enola bean patent as "Mexican bean biopiracy" and demanded that the patent be legally challenged and revoked. We requested that FAO and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) investigate the patent as a likely violation of their 1994 Trust agreement that obliges them to keep designated crop germplasm in the public domain and off-limits to intellectual property claims.
It was five years ago that the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT, a CGIAR center), with support from FAO, filed an official challenge of the now infamous Enola bean patent at the US-PTO in Washington.
Bean Biopiracy: The Enola bean patent case holds a special place in the "biopiracy hall of shame" because the owner of the patent, the president of a Colorado-based seed company, Larry Proctor, won his patent on a yellow bean variety of Mexican origin. US patent number 5,894,079 was issued April 13, 1999. (Proctor bought a bag of commercial beans in Mexico, planted them in Colorado [US], and did several years of selection.) Not long after, armed with both a US patent and plant breeders' rights certificate, Proctor charged that Mexican farmers were infringing his monopoly by selling yellow beans in the USA. Shipments of yellow beans were stopped at the Mexico/US border, and Mexican farmers lost lucrative markets. Proctor also filed lawsuits against seed companies and farmers in the USA, charging that they infringed his monopoly rights for selling or growing yellow beans from Mexico.
Not-So-Final Rejection: On April 14, 2005 the US-PTO released its "final rejection" - a 26-page decision in which the PTO examiner explains her decision to cancel or reject all of the patent's 64 claims. But wait-not so fast! The PTO bends over backwards to give the patent holder the last word. Proctor was given a six-month period to prepare and file a request to extend the re-examination period. On 14 October 2005 Proctor filed his request and won a 3-month reprieve. ETC Group learned today that the US-PTO has just issued another "final" rejection in response to Proctor's amendments. But, it's still not final! Proctor could file for one more extension - or take the case to a higher board of appeals.