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Patenting and Animal Genetic Resources

Hot off the press!

Patenting and Animal Genetic Resources (AnGR) are two terms that don't go together well for most of us. But most of us likely have no idea what the current situation actually is. With the official launch of the 'Patent Landscape Report on Animal Genetic Resources' on the 27th of November at FAO in Rome this can now be remedied. The report, a collaboration between FAO’s Animal Genetic Resources Branch and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), provides an overview of international patent activities relating to AnGR, specifically focussing on those related to food and agriculture.

In general, the report, which is based on text mining of 14 million patent applications, has good news relative to equitable sharing of AnGR.  After a steep increase of patent applications involving AnGR in the 1990s, peaking in 2001, there was a subsequent substantial decrease. This decrease can be attributed to both growing concern about patenting of DNA sequences thus leading to more restrictive patent rules, and the global financial crisis, including the burst of the dot-com bubble and a subsequent decline in biotechnology investments.

In general, patent applications relating to farm animals can be attributed to a wide range of technology clusters, ranging from biotechnology to animal husbandry.  In most of these farm animals are not used as a genetic resource. For example, in the animal husbandry cluster most patents concern new equipment. Also, research and development involving patentable animal genetic resources is mostly directed towards medical and pharmaceutical markets rather than the food sector, since there is a clear lack of consumer demand for transgenic animal products.

When specifically looking for examples of biopiracy or the misappropriation of AnGR and associated traditional knowledge, the report concluded that there is very limited, if any, real evidence for this. This is in line with the fact that most patent activity focuses on the dominant breeds rather than local breeds.
Although most of these news are good news, there is reason to continue monitoring trends. The recent completion of whole genome sequencing in a number of farm animals and emerging areas of attention, such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by ruminants, could lead to an increase in patent activity involving AnGR.