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Campaign to end the legal chaos at the European Patent Office

No Patents on Seeds! publishes new report and invites the public to a joint protest at the European Patent Office in Munich

The coalition No Patents on Seeds! published a new report on plant patents granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2018 and at the beginning of 2019. Despite a prohibition on the granting of patents on conventional breeding, the EPO has nevertheless granted patents on melons, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, garden parsley and cucumber, all of which were produced without using genetic engineering.  At the same time, oppositions against patents on barley were rejected. Faced with these developments, around 30 organisations held a joint protest in front of the EPO on 27 March. This is the day on which the Administrative Council representing the 38 contracting states of the EPO met. The assembly was requested to take measures to ensure that prohibitions are effective.

It is especially difficult for the meeting that in June 2017, after public protests, the Administrative Council together with backup from EU institutions, already took a decision to prohibit patents on plants and animals that are not derived from techniques of genetic engineering. However, in December 2018, the Technical Board of the EPO decided that the decision of the Administrative Council would not be legally binding. Therefore, from beginning of 2019, much higher numbers of these patents could be granted.

Consequently, there is a legally chaotic situation at the EPO: the Administrative Council decision is neither legally enforceable nor sufficient. This situation is especially advantageous to large companies, such as Bayer (Monsanto), Syngenta and BASF, who are aiming to monopolise seeds and plants and thereby take control of basic resources for producing our daily food. Some of these companies are even demanding that patents that were revoked are now reinstated.

The call for public demonstration is supported by: Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft (AbL), Arche Noah, agu – Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Umweltbeauftragten der Gliedkirchen der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland, BUND Naturschutz in Bayern e.V., Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND), Bundesverband Deutscher Milchviehhalter, Campact!,  Die Freien Bäcker, EDL – Evangelischer Dienst auf dem Lande, FIAN, Gäa e.V.- Vereinigung ökologischer Landbau, Gen-ethisches Netzwerk,  Genussgemeinschaft Städter und Bauern e.V., Gesellschaft für ökologische Forschung, IG Nachbau – Gegen Nachbau-Gebühren, IG Saatgut, Katholische Landvolkbewegung Deutschland (KLB), Kein Patent auf Leben!, Keine Patente auf Saatgut!, Kultursaat e.V.,  Sambucus e.V., Verband Katholisches Landvolk (VKL), Plataforma Transgénicos Fora, ProSpecieRara, Save our Seeds!, Slow Food München, SwissAid, Umweltinstitut München and WeMove Europe.

Contact:

Christoph Then, Spokesperson No Patents on Seeds!, Tel +49 (0) 151 54638040,

info@no-patents-on-seeds.org

Johanna Eckhardt, Project coordination No Patents on Seeds!, Tel + 43 (0) 680 2126 343,

johanna.eckhardt@no-patents-on-seeds.org

 

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Cucumbers that stay green longer

The key to the improved fruit shelf life, is mutation of the “stay green gene” in the cucumber plant

Cucumbers which have a shelf life of up to 5 weeks – thanks to mutation induced in the cucumber plant’s DNA – are described in a patent application by Enza Zaden Beheer B.V.

According to documents recently published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), even if conventional cucumbers are wrapped in foil to extend their shelf life, they still turn yellow within 1-2 weeks. And while cooling extends the shelf life of some other fresh produce, low temperatures tend to cause chill injury when it comes to cucumbers.

But the Dutch plant breeding company says its invention involves a cucumber plant (Cucumis sativus) producing fruit that, under standard storage conditions, takes 4-5 weeks to turn yellow.

Once ripe and yellow, cucumbers are usually bitter and sour, which is why they are mainly eaten in their unripe green form, it says.

The key to the improved fruit shelf life is mutation of the “stay green gene” in the cucumber plant. The application says the mutation can be introduced by use of mutagenic chemicals such as ethyl methane sulfonate (EMS) or by irradiation of plant material with gamma rays or fast neutrons.

Compared to that in conventional cucumber plants, the expression of the stay green gene in the new plant, or the enzymatic activity of the protein which the gene encodes, is lower.

“In the research that led to the present invention, it was surprisingly found that a reduced expression of the present gene or a reduced enzymatic activity of the present protein provided fruits having an extended shelf life for a time period up to five weeks when stored under standard storing conditions for cucumbers,” the application says.

Source: WIPO, 1. (WO2016012346) STAY GREEN CUCUMBER PLANT: https://patentscope.wipo.int/search/en/detail.jsf?docId=WO2016012346

Image: conventional cucumbers

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Whirlpool seeks patent for crisper said to keep fruit, veg fresher

Whirlpool Corporation says it has developed a crisper which controls ripening so as to extend the shelf-life of the fruit and vegetables in it. The invention hinges on the removal of ethylene, a chemical released by many fruits and some vegetables that hastens ripening.

Whirlpool Corporation says it has developed a crisper which controls ripening so as to extend the shelf-life of the fruit and vegetables in it.

The invention hinges on the removal of ethylene, a chemical released by many fruits and some vegetables that hastens ripening.

In international patent application documents published by WIPO, the US-based home appliance giant says that typically the special compartments found in fridges for storing fruit and vegetables – crisper drawers – are closed. This means that as the produce ripens, ethylene accumulates in the drawer and accelerates the ripening of surrounding produce, thereby reducing shelf life and freshness.

Whirlpool’s solution is to modify the atmosphere in the drawer via a photocatalytic process that converts ethylene into carbon dioxide and water. The result is not only is the ethylene reduced, the carbon dioxide produced limits the ripening of the produce it surrounds.

The invention achieves this via a crisper with a photo-catalytic element – featuring titanium dioxide TiO2 – and a source of UV light, preferably of the LED type. That’s because ethylene (and other volatile organic compounds) present in the air at low concentrations can be oxidised to carbon dioxide and water when exposed to particles of titanium dioxide irradiated with near UV light.

The lighting would ideally be subject to an on/off algorithm and an infrared gas sensor used to directly control ethylene concentration and indirectly monitor the carbon dioxide content.

Source: https://patentscope.wipo.int/search/en/detail.jsf?docId=US152767151

Whirlpool said one of the objects of the invention is to be “cost-effective both during the manufacturing process and when functioning during the entire life of the refrigerator.”

It also said that, in general, fruits release more ethylene than vegetables during the natural ripening process and that many vegetables are sensitive to ethylene.

Foods that emit ethylene include: apples, avocados, bananas, pears, peaches, plums, cantaloupes, honeydew melons, mushrooms and tomatoes.

Vegetables that absorb ethylene include: brassicas, leafy greens, beans, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, peas, peppers and potatoes.

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Driscoll’s seeks patent protection for raspberry clamshell

Driscoll's says its clamshell pack is great for transporting raspberries – or other soft, fragile produce items – and its air-flow keeps them cool and fresh until reaching supermarkets and consumers.

California-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc. is seeking patent protection for a clamshell raspberry container.

The world’s biggest fresh berry company and a holder of patents in many countries for its berry plant varieties, Driscoll’s says the clamshell is designed to transport raspberries – or other soft, fragile produce items – while the air-flow in the container keeps them cool and fresh until reaching supermarkets and consumers.

In its international patent application, published by the World Intellectual Property Organization on October 29, it says while there are various patents for containers for the shipping of berries or other produce, “there is a need in the art for a new and improved container that can be used in containing, shipping, transporting and storing in a cooled environment produce items that display a notable vulnerability and fragility and a great potential of easily undergoing damage.”

“This is particularly sought by produce exporting facilities, that suffer tremendous financial loss due to poorly designed containers, consequently resulting in a damage to the produce items during transportation and storage. The present invention now satisfies this need by providing such improved containers,” Driscoll’s says.

Among the features of its container is a central divider, which besides providing extensive strength and rigidity to the container, keeps the produce items separated so they don’t “bounce” on each other during transport.

Other aspects of the design include:

  • it is suited to a range of produce items, such as berries, grapes and other fruits,
  • it is typically made of molded plastic, with the preferred plastic being polyethylene terephthalate (PET), either virgin or recycled from bottles or combinations thereof,
  • various configurations are possible but a preferred, rectangular design could contain a total net weight of raspberries of 18 oz,
  • the lid is preferably recessed to allow stacking of one closed container upon another,
  • a soaking pad may be provided in each compartment to absorb moisture from container contents,
  • various snap locks can be used to attach the lid to the tray,
  • the sidewalls of the container are curved to prevent bruising of the contents, and
  • the container generally has various air vents.

On its website, Driscoll’s says that its clamshell packages are stamped with the international recycling code, which is three chasing arrows within a triangle with a number inside to designate the level of recyclability of the package.” Currently our packaging is marked with the recycling code #1 which is the most acceptable recyclable packaging. Containers are PET, Polyethylene Terephthalate.”

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New way to extend shelf life for ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables

With demand growing for ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables – such as peeled and sliced items – the challenge is to minimise development of microorganisms and changes in the colour, taste and structure of the produce.

One of Turkey’s leading food scientists says he has found a new way to extend the shelf life of ready-to-eat fresh fruits and vegetables.

Vural Gökmen’s method involves immersing the cut fruit and vegetables in a solution containing chitosan and ascorbic acid.

A professor in the food engineering department at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Gökmen says in patent application documents that chitosan is an antibacterial substance that also has antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties, while the ascorbic acid enables the chitosan to dissolve in the solution and helps prevent browning of the cut fruit or vegetables.

He says that because these substances pose no harm to health, the fruit and vegetables can be eaten without having to be washed.

With demand growing for ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables – such as peeled and sliced items – the challenge is to minimise development of microorganisms and changes in the colour, taste and structure of the produce.

Vural Gökmen, professor in the food engineering department at Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey

According to Gökmen, various existing methods for extending shelf life are not effective solutions because they cause the natural colours of the produce to deteriorate or cannot preserve its taste. Also, the produce sometimes needs to be washed before being eaten to remove the antimicrobial substances used to extend its shelf life, which in some cases are toxic.

Gökmen said that in his method, the amount of chitosan within the aqueous solution is preferably 10 gram/litre, while that of ascorbic acid can range from 10–50 gram/litre, according to the particular fruit or vegetable.

Tests on pomegranate seeds using his method with a 1% chitosan and 1% ascorbic acid solution found that 3 weeks later there were no microbiological risks and no change in smell, colour or taste in the pomegranate seeds, Gökmen says in documents published by Patentscope.

Image of pomegrante arils by Ramnath Bhat from PUNE, India [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Patent sought for award-winning watermelon pouch

According to the andnowuknow website, the ‘ready-ripe watermelon pouch’ won the 2015 Innovation Award for Best New Packaging at United Fresh Produce Association trade show and has since been endorsed by America’s National Watermelon Association (NWA) for its ¼ sliced watermelon program.

A resealable, anti-fog watermelon pouch which comes with a handle for easy carrying is the subject of a United States patent application by Wisconsin-based grocery wholesaler The Fresh Group, Ltd.

The application says the zip-lock bag has a gusseted floor to accommodate a large watermelon slice. A transparent window allows consumers to see the watermelon inside the pouch, which also features an upwardly concave interior volume – to orient and stabilise a watermelon for best presentation and least damage – and sturdy sidewalls to support the pouch on a flat surface.

The packaging was developed to keep larger sliced produce, such as watermelon, viable, at a high quality level and freshness for consumption, and easy for the consumer to carry home, the document says.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) earlier this year, Maglio product manager Joseph Delgadillo said an 11-day shelf life had been consistently achieved with watermelon in such a pouch. He said that in a trial in the US, the bags proved popular with consumers, who liked the added convenience, and retailers, who particularly appreciated the extended shelf-life. Delgadillo said the bag was attracting interest from other countries and markets and was a concept that would apply to other kinds of fresh produce, the ABC said.

The patent application has also been published by the World International Property Organization.

According to the andnowuknow website, the ‘ready-ripe watermelon pouch’ won the 2015 Innovation Award for Best New Packaging at United Fresh Produce Association trade show and has since been endorsed by America’s National Watermelon Association (NWA) for its ¼ sliced watermelon program.

 

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Some of the drawings included in the patent application.

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Call for EU to prevent patents for plants derived from conventional breeding

The European Commission should act to ensure patents can’t be obtained on plants derived from conventional breeding, says Member of the European Parliament Bart Staes.

The European Commission should act to ensure patents can’t be obtained on plants derived from conventional breeding, says Member of the European Parliament Bart Staes.

Referring to a the decision in March by the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office – which clarified that patents may be granted for plants that are obtained by essentially biological processes such as classical crossing and selection – the Belgian politician said the resulting situation is a “slap in the face for farmers and small breeders.”

In a written question to the Commission, Staes, from the Flemish Greens, said the decision means patents can be granted on plant and animal products which are the result of conventional breeding processes.

“Consequently, if there is a patent on a property of a new variety, the breeder must negotiate a licence with the patent holder in order to market this new variety, even if the protected property was already present in the breeder’s propagation material. “This is a slap in the face for farmers and small breeders, and will hinder the natural breeding process. It will also lead to a loss of biodiversity, further market concentration and increased dependence on large multinationals for the supply of seeds,” he said.

Staes asked the Commission if in response to the decision it plans to provide a legally binding interpretation of the existing patent law which would no longer allow patents to be obtained on plants derived from conventional breeding. He also asked if it would be prepared to amend a directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions in order to prohibit patents on plants derived from conventional breeding.

The Commission’s response is yet to be published.

Source: European Parliament

 

Read more about the issue:
Intellectual Property Watch:
EPO Backs Patents On Conventional Plants: Broccoli, Tomato Cases Decided
European Seed Association: ESA REGRETS “BROCCOLI/TOMATO DECISION” OF EUROPEAN PATENT OFFICE’S ENLARGED BOARD OF APPEAL

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