The agricultural biotech giant Monsanto was today told by Europe’s top court that it can’t stop soybean meal being sold in Europe that contains a Monsanto-patented DNA sequence.
The ruling by the Court of Justice is a strong affirmation of the 1998 EU Biotechnology Directive, which distinguishes what is patentable and what isn’t. According to the directive, it’s not possible to receive patent protection on a DNA sequence alone. You have to state the sequence’s particular function or industrial application, and receive a patent on that.
In this case, Monsanto had patented a DNA sequence that gave soybeans resistance to the company’s Roundup herbicide (containing glyphosate). But it has no patent in Argentina, where crops expressing this DNA can be cultivated without a licensing agreement. Harvested and processed soymeal was being exported from Argentina to Europe. In particular, it was being sold in the Netherlands, where Monsanto had sued importers such as Cefetra to try to prevent the practice – claiming that the soymeal contained the DNA sequence that it had patent protection for in Europe.
Monsanto withdrew its legal complaint shortly before the Court of Justice judgment came out. The ruling notes that the DNA in the soymeal was not performing the function for which Monsanto had gained patent protection. ‘Patent protection will only be given to DNA sequences where the DNA sequence is currently expressing its function,” notes Jonathan Radcliffe, at the UK law firm Nabarro.