Tag Archive: Biopiracy

Major breakthrough in the fight against biopiracy: Pelargonium patents

German pharmaceutical Schwabe announces withdrawal of 5 pelargonium patents

(26.04.10) (Johannesburg, Z?rich, Bonn) The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), the Berne Declaration (BD) and the Church Development Service (EED) welcome the announcement by Schwabe today that it will not pursue five pelargonium related patents granted to it by the European Patent Office EPO). Mariam Mayet, African Center for Biosafety (ACB): ?Nevertheless, we regret that such action comes only after such patents have been challenged by us?.

Mayet announced that the Alice community’s battle will continue for appropriate relief as a result of Schwabe’s unlawful use of the community’s traditional knowledge for the production of Umckaloabo. ?The Alice Community has a real and meaningful stake in the future conservation and sustainable use of the pelargonium species in the South Africa and the protection of its Traditional Knowledge. The status quo will have to change including power relationships and ownership issues?, Mayet concluded.

?The next step will be to fight biopiracy beyond the patent system?, says Francois Meienberg of the Swiss based Berne Declaration. ?Biopiracy is about unlawful use, not only about patents. Users of biological resources and traditional knowledge must comply with the provisions of the

The privatisation of Publically Funded Research in South Africa; Lessons from the US Bayh-Dole experience

In this paper, we present an overview of South Africa‘s Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly funded research and development Act, which imitates the US Bayh-Dole Act. The paper draws on the experience of the Bahy-Dole legislation in the US to show the shortcomings of the common approach aimed at facilitating the transfer of innovative research from the public to the private sector by way of IRP protection including patents. In the US, the Bayh-Dole has dramatically changed the nature of publicly financed institutions from those conducting pure research to quasi commercial entities withholding information in the quest for patent protection.

By Michelle Misaki Koyama

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African Sorghum for agrofuels: the race is on

Author: Edward Hammond
About the briefing: The interlocking problems of climate change, emissions from fossil fuels, and limited oil reserves have stimulated interest worldwide in the use of plant crops to produce fuel. Agrofuels are not a new idea. Brazil, for instance, has used them on a large scale for many years. The potential scale of production and use of agrofuels in the coming decades, however, is unprecedented.

Presently, most of the world’s agrofuels are produced from common crops including maize and sugarcane (for ethanol) and soya and rapeseed (for biodiesel). But dozens of companies and public sector plant breeding institutions, funded by private and government investment, are furiously researching other crops that could be optimized for agrofuels. This is in part due to the criticism that has been levelled at production of agrofuels from edible grains, particularly maize, and its effect on food prices.

Sorghum, native to Africa and grown world-wide, is fast emerging as a leader among the “energy crops” and may play a major role in the international agrofuels industry. Seed companies are showing new interest in African farmers’ varieties of sorghum, which may have characteristics useful for industrial agrofuel production. Companies and government plant

Ground-breaking’ victory for community against drug giant

Fromn the Cape Times Newspaper – January 28, 2010 Edition 1


MEMBERS of a small Eastern Cape community are elated after taking on a German pharmaceutical giant over a patent to produce extracts from two local plant species – and winning. “This is the first time that a patent is challenged successfully by Africans. It ends Schwabe’s monopoly over the use of our genetic resources and traditional knowledge,” said Nomtunzi Api, a community representative from Alice.

In a “ground-breaking” judgment in Munich this week, the European Patent Office (EPO) withdrew a patent held by Schwabe Pharmaceuticals to produce an extract from the roots of two species, Pelargonium sidoides and Pelargonium reniforme. The extract is the active ingredient in
Schwabe’s popular treatment for bronchitis, Umckaloabo. But the patent for the extraction process was successfully challenged by members of the rural Eastern Cape community of Alice, represented by NGO the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) and a Swiss anti-biopiracy watchdog, the Berne Declaration. The patent was also opposed by several of Schwabe’s competitors in a public hearing before the EPO’s Opposition Division.

According to EPO spokesman Rainer Osterwalder, the patent was revoked because the extraction process


Munich 26 January 2010. The Opposition Division of the European Patent Office (EPO) has today revoked a patent granted to Dr. Willmar Schwabe (Schwabe) in its entirety. The patent was opposed by the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) from South Africa acting on behalf of a rural community in Alice, in the Eastern Cape, in collaboration with the Swiss anti-biopiracy watchdog, the Berne Declaration.
The patent was in respect of a method for producing extracts of Pelargonium sidoides and Pelargonium reniforme to make Schwabe’s blockbuster cough and colds syrup, Umckaloabo. It was revoked because the Opposition Division found that the patent did not satisfy the requirements of the European Patent Convention dealing with inventiveness.
Both species of pelargonium are harvested from the wild in the Eastern Cape and exported to Europe for the production of Umckaloabo.

Nomtunzi Api, a representative from the Alice community, expressed elation in response to the revocation, “this is the first time that a patent is challenged successfully by Africans. It gives us hope for the future because the patent ends Schwabe’s monopoly over the use of our genetic resources and traditional knowledge.”
According to Mariam Mayet of the ACB, “Patent

Pelargonium Patent Challenge against Dr. Willmar Schwabe

Documents pertaining to the Case

1 Notice of opposition EP 1 429 795 B1 ACB Download
2 Notice of Opposition by Dr Dolder obo ACB and Berne Declaration dated 10 March 2008 Dr Older Download
3 Reply filed by Dr Willmar Schwabe dated 18 December 2008 Dr Schwabe Download
4 Summons to hearing by EPO dated 22 September 2009 EPO Download
5 Preliminary opinion by Opposition Division of EPO EPO Download
6 Reply by Dr Dolder obo ACB and Berne Declaration dated 20 November 2009 Dr Dolder Download

Background documents

1 ACB Briefing Paper: Knowledge Not For Sale: Umckaloabo and the Pelargonium Patent Challenges Download
2 ACB’s Frequently Asked Questions on the Pelargonium Patent Challenges Download


1 Fact Sheet on Pelargonium Patent Challenges, ACB, Berne Declaration EED, January 2010 Download
2 Biopiracy Under Fire: The pelargonium Patent Hearing Download

Patents, Climate Change and African Agriculture: Dire Predictions

Uncertainty and apprehension often afford opportunity to the cunning. This is certainly the case with climate change. The multinational seed and agrochemical industry see climate change as a means by which to further penetrate African agricultural markets by rhetorically positioning itself, even if implausibly, as having the solution to widespread climate concerns. Their so-called ?final solution? to deal with the impact of climate change on African agriculture depends on mass adoption of GM seeds and chemically intensive agricultural practices. This model poses serious biosafety risks and demands the surrender of Africa‘s food sovereignty to foreign corporations and the widespread acceptance of patents on life in Africa.

Despite its obvious pitfalls, this model is being aggressively promoted by multinationals, private philanthropy and some African national agricultural research programmes, often funded by the first two. The money and public relations forces backing the seed giants threaten to drown out other voices and other possibilities for African agriculture.

In this briefing, we expose the forces behind ?climate ready? crops, including the central role played by gene giant Monsanto and provide data on patents on climate genes in respect to key African staple and other food crops.

September 2009

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Genes from Africa: the colonisation of African DNA

?You people. We thought you folks had taken everything you could.
You took our land, you took our homes.
You stole our pottery and our songs and our blankets and our designs.
You took our language and, in some places, you even took our children.
You snatched at our religion and at our women.
You destroyed our history and now,
now it seems you come to suck the marrow from our bones.?

Jeanette Armstrong, an indigenous woman from Canada
at a meeting on the Human Genome Diversity Project

By Edward Hammond and Mariam Mayet

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Pirating African heritage: the pillaging continues – Media release

The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), a non- profit activist organization based in South Africa, has today released a report documenting 7 new cases of suspected biopiracy involving legally untenable patents/patent applications.

Some patents have already been granted and others are still pending in Europe and the USA in respect of African resources ranging from medicinal plants, and marine sponges to human viruses. The patent claimants include European big corporations such as Bayer and Louis Vuitton (Christian Dior), small natural health businesses, and even include the USA government.

?The 7 cases show that the patent systems in Europe and the United States are being used to promote the misappropriation of traditional knowledge and biological resources from the South? said Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB.

German based agriculture and healthcare giant Bayer, has staked a claim to the use of any extract from any plant of the Vernonia genus in Madagascar for ?improving the skin status.? The patent application appears to violate international law as it duplicates traditional knowledge held by indigenous communities in Madagascar. Bayer has in particular, laid claim to a particular Vernonia species endemic to Madagascar, known as ‘ambiaty’, which is used

Pirating African heritage: the pillaging continues

The cases of suspected biopiracy are summarized and discussed in a few paragraphs. Patent numbers and/or application numbers are provided for each, as well as contact information for the entity or entities that have lodged the patent claims. Using the provided data, the full patent (application) text can be accessed online at patent websites, such as the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), or the European Patent Office (EPO).8 Although patent application documents can be accessed, outside of the US, EU, and a few other countries, accurate national level patent status data can usually only be obtained by contacting the national patent office.

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Read the press release here.