Local knowledge prevails in world’s first biopiracy case
European patent office upholds decision to revoke neem patent

MUNICH, Germany, March 8, 2005: In a victory for seed savers everywhere, the European Patent Office ruled that the fungicidal properties of the Neem tree were already well documented by the indigenous people of India and there fore could not be patented. The battle over the right to patent the Neem’s qualities has raged on for ten years now between U.S. biorational pesticide company Thermo Trilogy, who hoped to secure exclusive rights to market the genes, and environmentalists who maintained the patent law was being misused to transfer biological wealth from the South to a few corporations, scientists, and countries of the North. In the end the court convinced by the opposition’s argument that the fungicidal properties had been public knowledge in India for many centuries ruled that Thermo Trilogy could not have discovered the traits.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, Indian environmentalist and part of the three member opposition team, traveled from India to be present at the hearing. After the decision was announced she commented, “What a lovely celebration for the women of India that this long-awaited decision falls on March 8th, International Women’s Day. Denying the patent means upholding the value of traditional knowledge for millions of women not only in India, but throughout the South.”

The decision upheld an earlier ruling to revoke the Neem patent in its entirety and officially closed what has been called the “world’s first biopiracy case.”

Linda Bullard, former President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and another member of the opposition, stated, “We are deeply gratified that through our case the EPO has recognized the intellectual achievements of the South. We were able to establish that traditional knowledge systems can be a means of establishing “prior art” and thus used to destroy the claims of “novelty” and “inventiveness” in these biopiracy patents. This now becomes case law, but the historic precedent must be further developed and transposed into overall international legal frameworks so that this type of theft is no longer possible.”

Magda Aelvoet, Belgian Minister of State and former Health and Environment Minister was the third member of the opposition.