Out of Control Patents and Monopoly Privileges
Charity Applies for Ownership of British "Fish and Chips"
In recent years it has become clear that many patents discourage innovation and raise prices. Some corporations seek frivolous -- but very lucrative and dangerous -- patents on all sorts of things. In response, here is a nonprofit organization playing the same game, in order to show how unfair the current monopolistic system is.
by Daniel Nelson of OneWorld.netAn international charity is trying to shock British consumers by applying for a patent on one half of the country's favorite fast-food dish, fish and chips.
London-based ActionAid has teamed up with food scientist Professor Leo Pyle, of Reading University in southeast England, to create a brand of french-fried potato, known in Britain as chips, which is "ready-salted."
The group yesterday filed an application for registration of its "invention" with the British patents office.
ActionAid's legal advisers say that if the group's application is successful it could win the right to license over 300 million servings of chips sold commercially each year that have the same properties as the ActionAid Chip, those with added salt.
"This is no joke," said ActionAid spokeswoman Maya Vaughan. "We are able to make this claim under new patent rules that allow companies to get exclusive rights over basic foods and even nature itself, simply by adding something to it, or displaying it in a way that has not been done before."
ActionAid's aim, however, is not to make millions of dollars, but to dramatize some of the implications of international patenting rules.
"Big business has taken out almost a thousand patents on the major crops we depend on for our food supply including rice, wheat, maize and soya," says Salil Shetty, the group's chief executive.
"Farmers in poor countries are faced with the prospect of having to pay for the right to grow food that they have been growing for generations or risk infringement of the patent. This is an outrage."
Six major agrochemical corporations -- Aventis, Dow, Du Pont, Mitsui, Monsanto, and Syngenta -- own 98 percent of the global market for genetically-modified crops and 30 percent of the global seed market, according to ActionAid research.
ActionAid cites the case of Larry Proctor, president of a Colorado-based seed company, who took some yellow-bean seeds home with him at the end of a holiday in Mexico, decided that United States consumers might appreciate their different color, and applied for and won an exclusive patent on the seed in 1999.
The patent -- which made it unlawful for yellow beans to be grown in the U.S. or imported without paying a royalty fee to the patent holder -- meant that export earnings by Mexican farmers, who had been growing and exporting yellow beans for generations, were threatened.
Reacting with alarm to the case, ActionAid decided to mount a campaign to raise awareness in Britain about the social and economic costs of the international patents system.
"We want to bring it home to the British public that their food can be patented too," said ActionAid's food-trade policy officer Ruchi Tripathi.
"If we get the license we could call on chip-shop owners throughout the U.K. to pay us for allowing them to add salt to their chips or risk infringement of our patent," according to the group.
We need to encourage innovation, not monopolization. Government should not give away special privileges freely or easily. What's your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
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