The study lists the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and South Korea as the five countries that requested most patents for products derived from Ecuador’s endemic resources.
So-called “biopirates” in these countries are responsible for 113 of the 128 applications or patents identified in the report. They did not request authorisation from Ecuador to access the genetic resources used in these patents, said René Ramírez, chief of the department of higher education, science, technology and innovation, at a presentation of the report here on 23 June.
Patenting products based on Ecuador’s endemic resources without the state’s permission is “abusive, illegitimate and illegal”, the report states.
“It is essential that all countries join and ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol.”
Luis Coloma, Jambatu Amphibian Research Centre
The country will file applications to annul these patents, said Hernán Núñez, executive director of the Ecuadorian Institute of Intellectual Property, which co-authored the report with Ramírez’s department.
Among the most pirated species, the study mentions the Galápagos tomatillo (Solanum cheesmaniae), the Ecuadorian squash (Cucurbita ecuadorensis) and Darwin’s cotton (Gossypium darwinii), prized for their pest-resistant properties. The list also includes Galápagos seaweed (Ochrophyta), used to treat skin diseases, arthritis and obesity.
The report’s diagnosis is valuable, says biologist Luis Coloma, director of the Jambatu Amphibian Research Centre. However, fighting biopiracy depends not only on Ecuador, but also on the will and legislation of other countries, he warns.
“It is essential that all countries join and ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol,” two international agreements to protect biodiversity and share benefits from genetic resources fairly, Coloma tells SciDev.Net. The United States has yet to ratify its participation in the biodiversity convention, which it signed in 1993. Australia, France and Japan have signed but not ratified the 2010 Nagoya protocol, which Iran, Israel and the United States have not even signed.
Ecuador’s government must also support large-scale projects with universities and research centres to complete the inventory of biodiversity in the country, Coloma says.
“Less than 10 per cent [of the country’s biological diversity] has been inventoried, let alone studied,” he says.
This article originally appeared on SciDev.Net’s Latin America and Caribbean edition.