Civil society has had a great success against the monopolization of life. A few days ago Syngenta withdrew a tomato patent and all associated claims. The patent was subsequently revoked by the Patent Office. In the granted patent, Syngenta claimed tomatoes with a high content of health-promoting flavonols. The “invention” was simply to cross tomatoes from their region of origin in Latin America with varieties commercially available here. In May 2016, 65,000 people from 59 countries and 32 organizations officially opposed the invention – the largest opposition in the history of the European Patent Office (EPO). In Switzerland, the action was coordinated by Pro Specie Rara, SWISSAID and Public Eye. The negotiations of the Board of Appeal, scheduled for 26 March 2019, will now no longer take place.

In recent years, the EPO has granted some 200 patents on food crops such as tomatoes, broccoli, pepperoni and lettuce, which have been bred conventionally and without the use of genetic engineering. After years of public protests, the 38 contracting states of the EPO, including Switzerland, banned patents on conventional plants by a historic decision in June 2017 and adapted the Implementing Regulations to the European Patent Convention – to Syngenta’s displeasure. In a complaint procedure last December, Syngenta argued that this new rule was contrary to the European Patent Convention and that patents on conventional plants should therefore still be possible. The Board of Appeal upheld Syngenta’s opposition, contrary to the decision of the contracting states. The legal chaos is now perfect.

Coordinated by the No Patents on Seeds! network, over 40 organizations, including Pro Specie Rara, SWISSAID and Public Eye, are now calling on António Campinos, President of the European Patent Office, to suspend all proceedings concerning the patenting of plants and animals from conventional breeding. The moratorium is intended to give the EPO contracting states sufficient time to define the legal framework within which the ban on the patenting of conventionally bred plants agreed in June 2017 can be enforced. It is urgent as a further appeal by Swiss NGOs against a Syngenta pepperoni will be heard on 7 March.