Patent laws challenged

Published: Monday 30 November 1998

EUROPE's biotechnology patent laws are to be challenged by the Netherlands in the European Court. The case will restart a longstanding debate over the legitimacy of patenting biotech inventions based on living organisms. This could prove to be a major setback for the European pharmaceutical industry. In May 1998, the European parliament passed a legislation permitting patents on organisms and gene sequences, with the exception of technology relating to the cloning of humans or the commercial use of embryos. But the Dutch government has challenged the law on procedural grounds. "We find patents for plants and animals unethical," said a spokesperson for the min- istry of economic affairs. The court case could take up to two years to resolve and may cause problems for drug companies seeking to file patents.

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