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  • 'Biopiracy' thwarted as US revokes bean patent

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[MEXICO CITY] The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has repealed a patent for a bean that opponents say amounts to biopiracy.

Larry Proctor from Colorado, United States, was issued a patent in 1999 for a new variety of bean called 'enola'. Proctor claimed he developed the bean from the Phaseilus vugaris variety, commonly known as 'mayacoba', that he bought in a market in Mexico.

In 2000, Colombia's International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), with the support of Mexican farmers and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), filed a request for re-examination of the patent.

The case continued for seven years. During that time, in 2004, scientists published evidence that the enola bean is identical to at least six bean varieties in the gene bank of CIAT.

The USPTO revoked Proctor's patent last month (29 April). But Proctor could still appeal in the US Federal Court.

"This is an international example of biopiracy and a badly issued patent that did not consider the necessary requirements, like originality", says Silvia Ribeiro, coordinator of the ETC Group in Mexico, an international nongovernmental organization that supports the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and biotechnology.

Ribeiro says international regulations are needed to prevent the patenting of indigenous seeds and foods.

Víctor Villalobos, coordinator for international affairs at the Mexican Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development and Fisheries, says it has been "demonstrated to the USPTO with scientific research that the enola bean is taxonomically, genetically and molecularly identical to the Mexican yellow bean".

He told SciDev.Net that the enola case is not the only Mexican fight against biopiracy. In December 2007 a Chinese company tried to patent the nopal Mexican cactus, and in 2003 the European Patent Office revoked a patent obtained by German company DuPont for a variety of Mexican maize

Villalobos says the Mexican government plans to build a Center of National Phytogenetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in 2009 to protect the biodiversity of all Mexican seeds and provide more control over its genetic resources.  

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