5 March 2002
PATENTS CHIEF ADMITS CHARITY SABOTAGE
The Guardian (London), March 4, 2002
A senior official at the patent office, an independent government agency, has boasted how he "rubbished" a major publicity initiative by the charity ActionAid, which works for some of the poorest people in the world.
The Guardian has obtained an article written for the patent office's internal newsletter, the Link, where the head of marketing Jeremy Philpott boasts how he had "developed a strategy to quash media interest" in the ActionAid initiative.
As part of a campaign to publicise the way agrochemical companies are patenting staple crops and foodstuffs in the developing world, ActionAid applied for a patent that would give it exclusive rights to a novel way of applying salt to chips before they are cooked. If granted, the charity says it could control all pre-salted chips sold in the UK. Patents, intended to encourage innovation and protect intellectual property, can be granted for an invention, or where novel intervention has changed a natural product.
ActionAid said its chip patent was typical of applications made every month by the agrochemical industry. In his article, Mr Philpott says he thought the campaign posed a serious threat to the patent office's reputation. It could lead to the office "being portrayed as servants of evil multinationals who cause poverty". He describes how he organised an "official" Department of Trade rebuttal of ActionAid's claim that it would be able to control the salted chip market and formed an alliance with the British potato council and the multinational Du Pont which has patents on genetically modified maize.
"Much of the rubbishing of ActionAid's misleading statements . . . therefore came from the BPC and not us," he wrote. He "poured cold water" on Radio One and London Evening Standard interest and "as for Monday 11th February (the launch day of the ActionAid campaign) it was the anticlimax I always hoped for."
Salil Shetty, ActionAid's chief executive, yesterday wrote to the patent office chief executive, Alison Brimelow, accusing the office of duplicity and complaining it deliberately orchestrated a spoiling campaign. A senior patent office manager, Philip Johnson, defended Mr Philpott but conceded that ActionAid had grounds to be concerned. "I can see there might be grounds to say perhaps we were not impartial."
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