Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

EU institutions react to Edinburgh bid to patent cloning methodology

The European Commission and Parliament have expressed concern and shock at the granting of a patent to the University of Edinburgh, which includes a technique for genetic modification of human embryos which could be used for the cloning of human beings.

The European Patent O...
The European Commission and Parliament have expressed concern and shock at the granting of a patent to the University of Edinburgh, which includes a technique for genetic modification of human embryos which could be used for the cloning of human beings.

The European Patent Office (EPO) approved the patent last December despite the fact that such patents are not allowed under EU law. The patent was apparently granted as a result of a translation error.

The European Commission and the Parliament are now looking to the Munich-based patent office to revoke the patent as soon as possible. MEPs are also calling for a review of the EPO's operations in view of making it publicly accountable.

The patent should not have been issued, admits the EPO, as the words 'non-human' were omitted from the University's claim on 'a method of preparing a transgenic animal'. While the EPO cannot amend the patent now it is granted, anyone can file an opposition to a claim within nine months: Greenpeace formally filed an objection on 24 February.

Speaking before the European Parliament on behalf of the European Commission, Mr Frits Bolkestein, Commissioner for the Internal Market, had an open mind as to whether the EPO had granted the patent in genuine error.

The European Patent office is not formally an EU institution and as such the European Commission does not have a direct responsibility to it, he said. Nevertheless, the Commissioner has written to the EPO expressing the view that ongoing delays to hear Greenpeace's formal opposition note are undesirable. The EPO has responded by agreeing to set up a working party to discuss the question immediately with a view to issuing a preliminary statement, pending a final ruling, as soon as possible.

In a Parliamentary debate at the end of March, speakers from the political groups put their concerns on record. They were concerned that the patent could clearly be used for human cloning - in violation of the 1998 Directive on biotechnology. The current situation reflects a need for the European Parliament to insist on high standards they said, with some MEPs even calling for a complete moratorium on all experiments involving such practices.

Lord Inglewood came to the defence of the Edinburgh researchers however, explaining that they had sought the patent in good faith to carry out research on human tissue which they believe will be vital in finding remedies for illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease and leukaemia. He emphasised that the university has broken no law and had no intention whatsoever of carrying out experiments involving cloning of humans. It was, he said, a genuine mistake that should be corrected.

Commissioner Bolkestein replied to the debate saying he is looking for a pragmatic solution to the problem and that he is hopeful this might be achieved through a negotiated settlement. If this is not possible, however, the Commission reserves the right to oppose the patent. He emphasised the Commission's belief that there is nothing wrong with the 1998 Directive on biotechnology and reminded MEPs that the Commission will put forward a new proposal for a directive on patents before this summer.

Subjects

Biotechnology
Follow us on: RSS Facebook Twitter YouTube Managed by the EU Publications Office Top