Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Friday, October 8, 1999 Published at 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK


Protest puts price on playing conkers

Youngsters may have to pay to soak conkers in vinegar

Children could be forced to pay out for playing conkers after a charity applied to patent the nuts in protest against "biopiracy" by big companies.

ActionAid could also stop youngsters from soaking conkers in vinegar - the traditional method used to harden them - for free if the move succeeds.

The charity is attempting to patent conkers under trade laws which allow companies to patent life forms.

[ image: Companies are taking out patents on basmati rice]
Companies are taking out patents on basmati rice
The application aims to highlight how multinationals take out patents on traditional food crops in the developing world.

Entitled Conk 1, it covers the hardening of conkers, conkers grown from hardened conkers and conkers which are hard, but have not been toughened.

Isabel McCrea, ActionAid's head of campaigns, said: "Our patent application highlights the ease with which new regulations on patenting life forms can be used to deprive people of rights they have always taken for granted.

Increasing poverty

"Having the potential to charge school children for playing conkers in the UK is just the thin end of the wedge."

She said companies had taken out patents on crops such as basmati rice, even though basmati has been grown across Asia for hundreds of years.

She said: "Patenting natural resources is wrong. It is "biopiracy". In the Third World it will make poor farmers even poorer if they have to pay royalties."

The "patents for life" regulation is due to be discussed at November's World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle.

'Strong point'

The UK Patent Office has said it will consider the application, which could take one to three years to process.

A spokesman said: "We get applications for all sorts of things from all across the fields of human endeavour. This application, while unusual, is not that out of the ordinary."

Lauren Nola of the 35th annual Conkers World Championships, which start on Sunday in Ashton, Northamptonshire, said: "We think they are making a really strong point.

"They have a lot of important things to say but the championships are about people having fun."

Proceeds from the championships will be donated to charities for the blind.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage |

UK Contents

Northern Ireland
Internet Links


UK Patent Office

World Trade Organisation

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Next steps for peace

Blairs' surprise over baby

Bowled over by Lord's

Beef row 'compromise' under fire

Hamilton 'would sell mother'

Industry misses new trains target

From Sport
Quins fightback shocks Cardiff

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

IRA ceasefire challenge rejected

Thousands celebrate Asian culture

From Sport
Christie could get two-year ban

From Entertainment
Colleagues remember Compo

Mother pleads for baby's return

Toys withdrawn in E.coli health scare

From Health
Nurses role set to expand

Israeli PM's plane in accident

More lottery cash for grassroots

Pro-lifers plan shock launch

Double killer gets life

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer

From UK Politics
Straw on trial over jury reform

Tatchell calls for rights probe into Mugabe

Ex-spy stays out in the cold

From UK Politics
Blair warns Livingstone

From Health
Smear equipment `misses cancers'

From Entertainment
Boyzone star gets in Christmas spirit

Fake bubbly warning

Murder jury hears dead girl's diary

From UK Politics
Germ warfare fiasco revealed

Blair babe triggers tabloid frenzy

Tourists shot by mistake

A new look for News Online