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Tuesday, 12 May, 1998, 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK
Genetic patents given go-ahead
European parliament demanded safeguards before approving the biotechnology patent measure
The European Parliament demanded safeguards before approving the biotechnology patent measure
Members of the European Parliament have approved a measure that gives legal protection for the first time to biotechnology inventions throughout Europe.

The controversial plan to allow patenting for products derived from living things was endorsed only after it had been altered to exclude all cloning and the patenting of human embryos.

The battle for EU-wide copyright on genetic advances has raged for nearly a decade.

The EU Commission proposal, called the Life Patents Directive, became a passionate tussle between commercial interests and the Green lobby. An earlier attempt to get it through the European parliament failed in 1995.

The Green lobby claims that it will give industry monopoly rights over genes, cells, plant, animal and human body parts.

But its backers say the new law is crucial in promoting the search for new therapies and medicines to help cure patients with genetic disorders and inherited diseases such as cancer.

The pharmaceutical sector had warned that Europe was becoming uncompetitive in a vital medical area because of the legal uncertainty and a proliferation of patent rules in different European states.

Copyright assured

Now the directive must be incorporated into national law in all EU member states, safeguarding biotech companies from copyright piracy of their new products.

The revisions demanded by MEPs, to guard against abuses rule out the patenting of any human body parts or any new experimentation involving the use of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes.

It will also be impossible to gain a patent where modifying the genetic make-up of animals causes suffering.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) hailed the parliamentary agreement as ensuring the future of biotech research in Europe and help the EU sector catch up with the US.

At the moment 65% of all biotech patents are of American origin, while European companies account for only 15%.

BBC News
Anti-patents campaigner Thomas Schweiger: "too much power to companies" (15 ")
BBC News
British MEP Bryan Cassidy: "boost for European research" (13")
See also:

12 May 98 | Sci/Tech
Genetic patents pose potent problem
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