ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
6 December 2002


2 items


Harvard mouse decision has implications for world hunger

December 5, 2002
Press release CCODP

TORONTO - Canada must defend the right of developing countries to resist pressure from the international agribusiness lobby to allow patents on life forms, The Canadian Catholic Organization for DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE (CCODP) said today in reaction to the Supreme Court's decision to outrule a patent on the Harvard Mouse.

Today's decision has implications for world hunger, the Catholic development agency said, as a ban on the patenting of life forms in Canada will stop Canadian patents on varieties of seeds used to grow staple food crops. In the developing world, some 1.4 billion farmers depend on free access to seeds of staple crops for their food security.

"The Supreme Court decision should be a signal to the government that Canada must use its influence within the World Trade Organization to support developing countries in their efforts to resist pressure to allow patents on seeds and other life forms," said Roger Dubois, President of DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE. "This would also be consistent with the policy of the Canadian International Development Agency to support the food security rights of the farmers of the South."

Developing countries have consistently complained that the international agribusiness lobby has attempted to use grey areas in the WTO's agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to pressure the former to adopt legislation allowing patents on life forms. This would mean that multinational companies would be able to develop monopolies on seeds of varieties of staple crops, a situation which would inevitably lead to control of the food chain by a small group of multinationals whose headquarters are based in the industrialized countries.

Given the clear position that the Supreme Court has taken on the patenting of life forms, Canada should now support calls for the WTO's TRIPS to be rewritten so that this unethical practice is outlawed, Mr. Dubois said.

"We cannot own what is essentially a creation of nature. The seeds of food crops are also the product of nature and the collective wisdom of generations of farmers. These creations must be used and shared for the benefit of all humanity."


Supreme Court rejects patenting of genetically-engineered life form

Canadian Press, Thursday, December 05, 2002

OTTAWA (CP) - A genetically engineered mouse developed by Harvard University for use in cancer research cannot be patented under current Canadian law, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thrusday. In a 5-4 judgment, the court said the mouse does not fit the definition of invention written into the federal Patent Act in the 19th century.

The majority decision written by Justice by Michel Bastarache says "The act in its current form fails to address many of the unique concerns that are raised by the patenting of higher life forms."

The so-called Harvard mouse - also dubbed the oncomouse from the Greek word for tumour, was developed in the late 1980s by researchers at the U.S. university.

By manipulating the mouse's genes they produced an animal whose descendants would be more susceptible to tumours, thus facilitating clinical work and producing faster experimental results.

Harvard has held patents on the mouse in the United States, Japan and much of Europe for more than a decade.

But the effort to obtain similar patent protection in Canada - meaning the mouse couldn't be used for research without paying a licence fee - sparked an ethical storm.

Critics maintained that, if mice could be patented, it might open the door to future attempts to produce patent-protected, genetically altered human beings.

Church and environmental groups opposed patenting of the oncomouse, arguing that Parliament rather than the courts should make such a morally sensitive decision.

Some scientists have also voiced worries that patenting life forms for commercial profit could hinder the research efforts of competitors.

The Canadian patent office denied Harvard's initial application, saying the oncomouse didn't fit the definition of invention written into federal law in the 19th century.

The trial division of Federal Court later ruled the biochemical processes used to alter the mouse's genes could be patented, but the mouse itself couldn't be.

The Federal Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge and concluded both the processes and the mouse could receive patent protection.

Patents have been granted in Canada for genetically manipulated food crops, for single-cell organisms like bacteria and yeast, and even for modified human genes and cell lines.

But this was the test case to determine whether a patent could be awarded for an animal scientifically defined as a higher life form.

© Copyright  2002 The Canadian Press

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