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Opposition filed against patent on chimpanzees

15 November 2012
by testbiotech -- last modified 15 November 2012

Patent violates ethical boundaries of European patent law


Eleven organisations from Germany, Switzerland and Great Britain have filed a joint opposition against a patent on genetically engineered chimpanzees granted to the US company Intrexon. Patent EP1456346 was granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) in February 2012. The animals will be manipulated with synthetic DNA originating from insects and are intended for use in pharmaceutical research. The joint opposition argues that this patent violates ethical provisions in patent law. The opponents, Albert Schweitzer Foundation fuer unsere Mitwelt, British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), Deutscher Tierschutzbund, Gen-ethisches Netzwerk (GeN), Gesellschaft für oekologische Forschung, No Patents on Life!, Pro Wildlife Schweizerische Arbeitsgruppe Gentechnologie (SAG), Schweizer Tierschutz (STS), Testbiotech and Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF), Germany are warning that the patent can create commercial incentives to run more animal experiments for commercial purposes and calling for animals to be treated with more respect.

"Animals should be seen as fellow creatures and treated with the respect they deserve and protected from commercial abuse. There is absolutely no justification for patenting great apes - it would, in fact, be an affront to our own species", says Christoph Then for Testbiotech. "The EPO has gone far beyond boundaries accepted by European society. It is time to stop patents on animals."

Recent research revealed that the EPO has granted three patents on genetically engineered chimpanzees this year, two of them for Intrexon which claims animals such as mice, rats, rabbits, cats, dogs, bovines, goats, pigs, horses, sheep, monkeys and chimpanzees. A third patent was granted to the US company, Altor BioScience.

"Throughout Africa, chimpanzees are badly threatened in their survival as forests are more than ever under pressure to produce more food or biofuel for the developed world and our efforts to conserve them are facing more and more challenges. At the same time, science has confirmed in all new studies how close chimpanzees are to humans in their cognitive abilities, in their social life, their culture, their use of tools as well as their abilities to feel empathy towards the weak ones. This last point is well illustrated worldwide in the new Disney film "Chimpanzee". With respect to these points, it is more than puzzling that the EPO should grant a patent on chimpanzees without considering the moral questions it raises", says Professor Christophe Boesch, President of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation.

The EPO has already granted around 1200 patents on animals, since the first one in 1992 on the so-called "oncomouse". Several patents have been granted on great apes. In 2010, the company Bionomics received a patent on genetically engineered chimpanzees suffering from an epileptic disorder (EP 1852505).

Some EU countries have already prohibited experiments on great apes and the EU has adopted Directive 2010/63/EU which places a ban on the use of great apes in research except under exceptional circumstances. The opponents are warning that patents can create commercial incentives to produce and market these animals by using legal loopholes within the 38 member states of the European Patent Convention.

Testbiotech was founded in 2008 by a group of experts and registered as a non-profit organisation to promote independent research and public debate on the impacts of biotechnology. Testbiotech is a centre of expertise concerned mainly with the ecological, social and ethical consequences of modern biotechnology. Special emphasis is placed on genetic engineering applications in agriculture. We deal with risk assessment and risk management, socio-economic consequences (e.g. caused by patents on seeds or livestock), developments in the regulatory framework and new approaches in plant and animal breeding (besides genetic engineering). Testbiotech conducts its own studies or commissions research projects from other institutions and uses the relevant findings to raise broader public awareness.

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