October 26, 2005

Ban patents on embryo-using inventions: EU

By Huw Jones

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - European Union lawmakers
called on Wednesday for a ban on patenting embryonic
cell-related inventions in the bloc, even though some member
states may interpret EU rules as allowing patents in some

They passed a non-binding resolution that could force the
European Commission to come off the fence and clarify how the
current EU framework on patenting biotechnology inventions
should be applied, lawmakers said.

Wednesday's vote was sparked by concern among some EU
lawmakers over a patent granted by the European Patent Office
(EPO) in February that includes a method of selection of human
germ cells and permits patenting of the germ cells themselves.

The religious, ethical and environmental issues raised by
the topic made for odd political bedfellows.

The right wing EPP group teamed up with the Greens to push
for a tougher wording in the resolution, outgunning an alliance
of the center and socialists who took a more liberal tack.

"We don't believe everything that is possible to do should
be patentable," said EPP member Peter Liese.

The EPO is an independent body with no link to the EU.

Some lawmakers said the patent was illegal and should not
have been granted. The EPO was not available for comment.

Parliament will ask the European Commission to appeal
against the patent decision.

Inventions using stem cells that are capable of developing
into humans are already banned in the EU, but patentability of
other types of embryonic stem cells that cannot develop into
humans remains a gray area.

In a debate on Tuesday evening, Internal Market
Commissioner Charlie McCreevy angered some lawmakers on the
right when he said the EU rules could be interpreted in
different ways and that it was too soon to say what, if
anything, should be done.

He also dashed hopes of a rules revamp.

"A modification of the directive does not, at this stage,
seem appropriate," McCreevy said.

McCreevy said it was important to allow the EU
biotechnology industry to flourish as last year Chinese firms
filed more biotechnology patents in Europe than European
companies did.

Lawmakers also voted to ask the EPO to set up a new body to
check patents on ethical grounds before giving final approval.

In July, the Commission published its second report on
biotechnological inventions covering gene patents and stem
cells as it monitors a rapidly moving sector.

The Commission has refused to take a position on how member
states have enforced the directive, triggering accusations from
some Euro deputies of sticking its head in the sand.

Instead the executive launched a study that will analyze
the extent of human DNA patenting in Europe.