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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

Syngenta Retreats on Bid to Patent Global Plant Resources

Posted to the IUF website 24-Feb-2005

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Faced with organized opposition to an international patent application aimed at gaining proprietary rights over the genetic process governing flower production in plants (click here for background) the Swiss-based seed and agrochemical transnational Syngenta has agreed to let its patent application lapse. In separate communications to the IUF and to the ETC Group, the civil society organization with which the IUF worked to fight this global power grab, Syngenta has stated that it will not pursue its patent claims at the US Patent and Trademark office and the European Patent Office. The announcement followed earlier ambiguous statements that it would abandon the patent in developing countries, leaving open the possibility that it would continue pushing the application in other critical markets.

In its letter to the IUF, Syngenta states that "It is our belief that intellectual property rights are indispensable for investment in innovation, as they provide transparency and enable companies to take considerable research and development risks with a return on their investment. The seeds sector in particular shows how the patent system encourages companies to share and license technology and inventions that might otherwise be kept private and exclusive." The patent process, however, is anything but transparent, and Syngenta's international patent application PCT/EPO2/06968, Publication Number WO03/00094, which lays claim to dozens of major food crops (including varieties as yet undiscovered!), exemplifies a global corporate strategy. The IUF will therefore be working, together with other groups, to ensure that Syngenta and the other biotechnology and seed/agrochemical corporations go public with their patent applications in this domain. Sustained pressure on the companies will be needed to compel them to renounce their drive to acquire "ownership" of the world's food resources through the patent process.

The IUF has yet to receive a reply to our written request to Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), calling on the organization to exercise its mandate to defend global food security and take action to block the Syngenta patent application.