Patent future of New Genomic Techniques

New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) are techniques that can be used to alter the genetic material of an organism. There are varied examples of such techniques that can be used all throughout the biosciences sector, for example CRISPER systems or those systems based on the use of Transcription activator-like effector nucleases or TALEN. In all examples, the objective of the user dictates the type and magnitude of any changes to the genome of the organism. In the field of biotechnology, these techniques can be used as a compliment to the more established technique of selective breeding in order to introduce more desirable characteristics into an organism. The long-term aim is to use such techniques to improve the competitiveness of Europe and to lead a drive towards a more sustainable future.

Recently, the European Commission proposed a relaxing of comparatively strict EU wide rules on genetically modified organisms with respect to plants that are considered as equivalent to conventional plants, or NGT category 1 plants (see document DOM/2023/411 final for more details). This proposal has been amended by members of the European Parliament with the addition of a new Article 4a, in which it is specified that NGT plants, plant material, parts thereof, genetic information and the process features they contain shall not be considered as patentable. This includes all NGT plants as well as plants obtained by random mutagenesis techniques and cell fusion.

Such a proposal effectively amounts to a full ban on the patenting of any NGT plants. Advocates of such a move say that it will allow for legal certainty, as well as avoiding an increase in costs for farmers who would otherwise require the patent holders’ rights to produce such plants. Opponents say however that it could lead to a reduction in innovation by companies, a lowering of investment in the field of NGT technology and a risk to the overall competitiveness of European companies. It remains to be seen how the European Patent Office and European Commission respond to the parliament’s proposal.

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