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Patents: Growing pains

Europe urgently needs to decide what kinds of plants should be patentable

A small, dark green pepper has derailed Europe’s patenting processes, and cast a cloud over one of the continent’s most research-intensive industries. On 10 April, the president of the European Patent Office António Campinos called a halt to about 275 active patenting proceedings. The reason: fallout from an attempt by Swiss agrochemical firm Syngenta to patent the pepper.

The company was seeking to protect the vegetable’s dark greenness as an invention. But the EPO ruled that the trait was unpatentable because it was produced by “essentially biological processes”.

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