Syngenta bid to monopolize rice patents

NEW DELHI, August 16, 2005 (Financial Express via The Swiss biotech giant, Syngenta has tightened its monopoly control over rice by seeking global patents over thousands of gene sequences.

A single grain of rice contains 37,544 genes, roughly one-fourth more than the genes in a human body. With the multinational all set to "own" rice, the world's most important staple food crop, there may be serious implications for future research in this crop.

These patents are filed before the European Patent Office, US Patent and Trademark Office and the World Intellectual Property Rights Organisation (WIPO).

"If conceded, it will be the beginning of scientific apartheid not only against India but for all Third World countries," said Devinder Sharma, chair of the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security.

The former director-general of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and present vice-chancellor of Banaras Hindu University Dr Punjab Singh said, "The situation is very serious. All patent applications need proper scrutiny and India should fight to safeguard its interests, if they are affected."

Syngenta's patent claims are also aimed at other important food crops like wheat, corn, sorghum, rye, banana, soyabean, fruits and vegetables besides others. The company claims that most of the gene sequences that it has 'invented' are identical in other crops and therefore the patent needs to extend to those crops also. In all, Syngenta has filed for patents on 15 gene sequences.

In a communication to the NGOs - Berne Declaration (Switzerland), Swissaid (Switzerland), the German NGO "No Patents on Life" and Greenpeace, Adrian Dubock, head of Biotechnology ventures in Syngenta, had said, "Syngenta's original commercial interest (discontinued for now, but not necessarily forever) was for sales in the industrialized countries of nutritionally enhanced crops, included, but not limited to rice."

According to Dubock, the patent on the GE rice will not be dropped. Yet the company claims there are no commercial interests in this technology at the moment.

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