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.
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.
"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.
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.