News - July 6, 2010

Plant breeding law relaxed

Dutch plant breeders are to be allowed to develop new breeds with characteristics that have been patented by other companies, following a ruling by the lower house of the Dutch parliament, based on advice from Wageningen UR.

The lower house decided on 30 th June on a partial exemption from the patent law for plant breeders in the Netherlands. Companies are now allowed to work with genes patented by other companies. But if they want to launch a new breed with this gene on the market, they need a license from the patent holder. This rule already applied in France and Germany.
The Wageningen report 'A Matter of Breeding' proposed a full exemption from the patent law for plant breeders. This would mean that nurseries would be free to make any use of the patented characteristics. This proposal was rejected by the lower house by a tiny majority (71 votes against 70).
'If there is a full exemption then a patent on a plant characteristic isn't worth much any more', says Niels Louwaars of the Dutch Centre for Genetic Resources (CGN), who put together the advice on the patent law. 'With a limited exemption, breeders have to negotiate with the patent holder on a license fee. That puts them in a weak position.'
Meanwhile the lower house has asked caretaker ministers Verburg (LNV) and van den Hoeven (Economic Affairs) to draw up a code of conduct with the plant breeding sector on the use of patents. Currently, large plant breeding companies regularly use their patents to prevent competitors from marketing new products.