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Charity calls for action over biopiracy

Guinea-Bissau is one of the countries fighting biopiracy. Swissaid

The aid organisation Swissaid has called for an end to the patenting of natural resources such as plants and seeds, ahead of a revision of the Swiss patent law.

This content was published on February 17, 2006 - 07:38

The call forms the cornerstone of Swissaid's "No patents on our future" campaign, which was launched at a news conference in the capital, Bern, on Thursday.

Swissaid chief executive Caroline Morel said that problems arose when multinationals from the industrialised world took out patents on natural resources in developing countries.

"These property rights and the privatisation of natural resources enables multinationals to have monopolies over natural resources," Morel told swissinfo.

"We fight for the autonomy and self-definition of farmers so that they still have the rights over their seeds and natural resources."

A plant may be used to develop a medicine, and is therefore subject to a patent, explained Morel. This is then commercialised, but the people living in the area where the plant is found do not receive any money, she added.

Natural resources

Currently 90 per cent of natural resources are in developing countries, but 97 per cent of patents are held by the western world, says the charity.

Swissaid currently supports projects which fight against the practice of patenting organisms, such as happens in Guinea-Bissau.

Speaking at the news conference, Mamadou Silla, spokesman for one of the country's farming organisations, said that farmers were fighting against biopiracy – the development of biomaterials without payment.

"The Guinea-Bissau farmers are demanding that their rights of collective ownership on their genetic resources and their traditional knowledge are recognised," he said.

Law revision

Swissaid is calling for the Swiss parliament to take these considerations into account when it revises the law on patents later this year.

The proposal includes bringing legislation into line with European regulations and adapting the patent law to the technological progress and the international developments of the past years.

This means "adequate patent protection for inventions in the field of biotechnology" and includes protection for patents on gene sequences and the subsequent uses of these sequences.

Although Morel does not expect parliament to agree to stop patents on living organisms, she hopes that the law will be revised to protect the interests of the poor people.

Another target is multinationals. "Switzerland plays an important role because a lot of multinationals are based in Switzerland, like Syngenta and Nestlé, so we think they also have a responsibility," said Morel.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

In brief

At its session of November 23, 2005 the Swiss government approved the revision of the patent law.

The revision adapts the patent law to the technological progress and the international developments of the past years.

Its main focus is to ensure adequate patent protection for inventions in the field of biotechnology. This revision is the second part of a three-stage legal process.

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