Patents on NGTs create new dependencies for breeders

Lower costs and ease of use of NGTs will facilitate the development of new products, especially for small to medium-sized companies and public research organisations. One of the most frequently heard arguments in the debate on EU NGT regulation is that it will increase the competitiveness of small to medium-sized companies in relation to large corporations.

NGT methods can be patented in exactly the same way as the resulting NGT plants, animals and microorganisms. In addition to the ‘inventors’ of the CRISPR/Cas technology (such as the University of California and the Broad Institute), the large agricultural companies are particularly dominant in this field. Corteva (the former agricultural division of DowDuPont) is outstanding in respect to the number of patent applications it has filed and the number of patents it has been assigned. The US-based company has already applied for around 100 patents, which, if granted, will also be legally effective in Europe. Corteva held around 30 such patents in Europe at the end of 2022 – more than any other company in this sector. In addition to its own patent applications, Corteva has also secured access to dozens of basic patents on CRISPR/Cas technology. Other large corporations, such as Bayer, BASF and Syngenta (Sinochem), are also applying for more and more patents to cover new genetic engineering applications.

As a consequence, many small and medium-sized European breeding companies may have to sign contracts with these large corporations if they want access to the new technologies. This will create new dependencies, as they will be obliged to pay licence fees, adhere to corporate guidelines, comply with confidentiality agreements and, if required, disclose their breeding objectives. Large corporations will have far-reaching control over their competitors and will further expand their dominant market position.

The biotech industry is campaigning in the EU to abolish mandatory risk assessment and labelling requirements for plants obtained from new genetic engineering. At the same time, they are filing more and more patent applications for NGT plants, while also trying to extend patent claims to cover conventional breeding. The argumentation that accelerated authorisation of NGT plants will also strengthen small and medium-sized plant breeding companies is generally incorrect. Instead, this will result in disruptive processes and further concentrate the market power of large corporations. Plant breeding and agriculture could lose out to the over-patenting of seeds and the deregulation of NGTs, as could food producers and consumers. In practice, this will create a situation as follows: those who grow NGT plants will ‘reap’ patents.

Further information:
TA report
Patent report
No Patents on Seeds (2022): Patent report
No Patents on Seeds (2023): Patent report
Video on socio-economic effects

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