Fun_People Archive
11 Apr
US biopatents - how pissed off is the Third world?

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Sat, 11 Apr 98 00:06:45 -0700
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Subject: US biopatents - how pissed off is the Third world?

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From: (Gregory Aharonian)

!19980407  Biopatents - how pissed off is the Third World?

    I have reported in the past on complaints from foreign countries about
the patenting of their native plants and their uses.  Three recent events
have illustrated to me the intense outrage that has been generated as the
US Patent Office issues these questionable patents.

    The first two events deal with Basmati rice, an Indian-subcontinent rice
that has been patented by a Texas company.  The first event was a cable
television show I happen to wander into while channel surfing.  On most
cable systems, there is one channel for non-white American cultures (for
lack of a better description), with shows like Korean Hour, Armenian Hour,
India Telecom Post, etc.  News from the homeland, stories about local
community events, movies, food, etc.  Nice shows to watch, even if you are
not of their culture.

    What surprised me is that recently on some of the Indian shows, the
entire hour-long show has been devoted to the issue of the patenting of the
Basmati rice.  For the genre of these cable shows, that is unusual and
indicative of the outrage.  I have contacted the producers of one of these
shows, and they said they will be doing more shows on this topic.  They want
to educate Indians in the US on this issue, to help fight the issuance of
these patents.  For a patent issue to make it onto a cable TV show -
something is amiss.

    The second event was a story in Monday's Wall Street Journal about this
outrage.  As a measure of this outrage, the story reports that India and
Pakistan (whose feelings are on a par with Israelis and Palestinians) are
working together to challenge the US patent on Basmati rice.  They are
fighting not only the patent, but also that Ricetec has trademarked the word
"Basmati", selling their Basmati-Texas rice strain in packaging that says
"Kasmati, Indian style Basmati".  Ricetec's response to these complaints is
"If you don't protect what you have, you don't have the right to keep it".
Their response is that the USPTO shouldn't have granted Ricetec those rights
in the first place if they knew more about the prior art and use of Basmati.
The British government, which takes basmati rice to mean Indian rice, has
refused entry to Ricetec's Kasmati on the grounds that the company is
passing it off as something that it isn't.  The Indians and Pakistanis are
also arguing that you can't grow anything labelled "basmati" in the United
States, because the climate, soil and water are different from the region
in the Himalayas were both countries grow the rice.

    The general fear in India was expressed by one of their rice exporters.
"Two hundred years ago, the British came for trading and then ruled us.....
Everyone's afraid the same thing is happening now: America is using our
products to overtake us commercially".

    The third event is a letter to Congress from a Central and South
American group protesting the awarding of a US patent to one of their
native plants.  The organization sent me a copy of the letter to send out
wherever possible.  Same type of complaints as the Indians and Pakistani's.
And probably the same type of complaint that will eventually come out of
China, when China starts paying attention to the US patenting of acupuncture

    Yet more examples of the dysfunctionality of the US patent examination
system, which refuses to concede that it just doesn't give that much of a
damn about non-patent prior art, not only in the electronics field (where
I opinion all the time), but pretty much all technology areas.  As these
cases point out, the USPTO isn't qualified to determine the novelty and
nonobviousness of non-native plants, and should self-impose a moratorium
until it cleans up its act (along with its software examining as well :-).
These patents are embarassing to the United States - American companies
don't need such cheap tricks to win market share.

Greg Aharonian
Internet Patent News Service

    Coordinating Body for Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin


Dear Sirs:

    As you may already be aware, the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) - a
body of the the U.S. government - has decided to break relations with our
organization. In doing so, they have denied any type of colaboration with
more than one and a half million indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin,
while we are making an effort to maintain our cultures, as well as, trying
to avoid the destruction of the largest rainforest on the planet.

    The reasoning of the president of the IAF is based the resolution
adopted by the Coordinating Body for Indigenous Organizations of the
Amazon Basin (COICA), that, in its Fifth Congress realized in May of the
past year, decided to declare a citizen of the United States, Loren Miller,
an "enemy of indigenous people". At this time COICA prohibited his entrance
into any indigenous territory.  Mr. Miller has patented in the United
States, a variety of Ayahuasca or Yage (Banisteriopsis caapi), which is a
plant of hallucinogenic properties that is considered sacred for the
majority of the 400 indigenous groups in the nine countries which constitute

    We know well the campaign to discredit our organization orchestrated by
Miller. For him, it was not enough to patent our sacred plant taken from
the garden of an indigenous family in Ecuador, and he is now proposing to
install a laboratory to process the plant in the same country.  COICA is an
organization with positive earned prestige at the international level, not
only for the defense of indigenous rights, but also for the proposals and
work to amelliorate the life conditions of our peoples.

    The drastic resolution adopted by IAF is for us one more confirmation
that this organization is serving the economic interests of only one
individual against the beliefs of hundreds of thousands of indigenous
peoples and the opinion of worldwide respected organizations such as the
WWF, the IUCN and the Amazon Coalition.  These are some of the hundreds of
organizations, American and international personalities that have written
to the IAF to express their solidarity with COICA.

    The pressure exercised by the IAF to retract our resolution adopted
unanimously by ninety delegates representing the 400 indigenous groups
represented in our Congress, it is inadmissable. As we have said, the
respect of our beliefs and dignity as peoples are worth more than any amount
of help that can be given or taken away.

    COICA, once again ratifies all the points of the resolution adopted in
the Fifth Congress about the patenting of ayahuasca, and insists in
stressing that under no circumstances and despite any pressure of national
and international organizations, COICA will not renounce its legitimate
right to defend and preserve the knowledge, practices, innovations and
natural resources of the peoples whom we represent. This right has been
explicitly recognized in the Treaty of Biological Diversity that was
ratified by more than 170 countries.

    In addition to this, COICA declares that in the defense of its rights,
it will use all legal means available. The capricious interpretation of
COICA's resolution that Mr. Miller and other interested sectors have made,
stating that our organization threatens "the life and integrity of a United
States citizen" lacks any foundation and is only a strategy to divert the
attention of the fundamental problem, which is the immoral and illegal
patenting of our sacred plant. This is an offense which we cannot tolerate.

    We believe that you the Congressmen/women, should know the fundamental
reason which allows your fellow citizens to patent our plants and
appropriate our knowledge. There is a lack of ratification by the U.S.
Congress of the Treaty of Biological Diversity, and a lack of approval for
accurate laws that impede this known worldwide practice of "biopiracy".

    For these reasons, COICA will immediately initiate the legal process in
the United States to achieve the absolute nullity of the patent obtained by
Mr. Miller. In this process we are confident that there will be wide
international solidarity for COICA's position, especially with the active
support of conservation, humanitarian and politcal organizations of the
United States. The personalities, politicians and public opinion of the
U.S., have on several occasions demonstrated their solidarity with the cause
of Amazonian indigenous peoples due to our contribution to the environmental
stability of the planet.


Antonio Jacanimijoy
General Coordinator of COICA

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