European Parliament backs ban on patents for NGT plants
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European Parliament backs ban on patents for NGT plants

The European Parliament building in Brussels

Lawyers say the proposal will push biotech research away from Europe and lead to difficult conversations with clients

The European Parliament has backed a committee of lawmakers’ proposals to ban all patents on plants produced by new genomic techniques.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favour by 307 to 263 during a plenary session today, February 7. There were 41 abstentions.

The Committee on Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety had put forward an amended version of a 2023 proposal by the European Commission on “new techniques in biotechnology”.

Among the revisions that the committee proposed last week was a ban on patents on all NGT plants.

The amendment also requested a report, by June 2025, on the “impact of patents on breeders' and farmers' access to varied plant reproductive material”, as well as a legislative proposal to update EU rules on intellectual property rights.

The European Council must also approve the proposal before it can be progressed. Individual member states will also give feedback.

Nevertheless, stakeholders have expressed concern.

Industry sources, including private practice lawyers and a senior in-house counsel operating in the biotech field, warned that the plans could drive investment and research away from Europe.

One private practitioner said the proposals, if implemented, would result in difficult conversations with clients.

“Why should anyone invest in an organisation or start-up here [Europe] when the fruits of their labour cannot be picked?” he asked.

Another lawyer warned that all previously granted NGT patents could now be deemed invalid.

“The goal of the commission’s original proposal is to improve and promote the biotech sector, but this amendment will do the exact opposite,” he said.

Meanwhile, a senior in-house source said he envisaged an “immediate and profound effect” on the way the company works assuming the amendment becomes law.

“I don’t see the basis for a European start-up to establish itself if products and methods they use are not protectable. I don’t see how they would attract funding.”

Industry bodies have also reacted angrily.

The German Biotechnology Industry Association said today that the vote was a “devastating signal” for Europe as a centre of innovation.

Chairman Max Wegner warned of serious consequences and appealed to the EU to correct the decision: "A patent ban in plant biotechnology threatens to dry up the innovation ecosystem in biotechnology as a whole. It reduces transparency in the innovation landscape and drives innovation out of Europe.”

After the vote in parliament, rapporteur MEP Jessica Polfjärd, a member of the European People’s Party, did not directly mention IP but said the new rules would facilitate improved plant varieties.

“I hope member states will soon adopt their position so we can adopt the new rules before the European elections [in June] and give the farmers the tools they need for the green transition,” she added.

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