lunes, 17 de agosto de 2009

Pirating African heritage: the pillaging continues

African Centre for Biosafety Press Release: 10 August 2009

The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), a non- profit activist
organization based in South Africa, has today released a report
documenting 7 new cases of suspected biopiracy involving legally
untenable patents/patent applications.

Some patents have already been granted and others are still pending
in Europe and the USA in respect of African resources ranging from
medicinal plants, and marine sponges to human viruses. The patent
claimants include European big corporations such as Bayer and Louis
Vuitton (Christian Dior), small natural health businesses, and even
include the USA government.

“The 7 cases show that the patent systems in Europe and the United
States are being used to promote the misappropriation of traditional
knowledge and biological resources from the South” said Mariam
Mayet, Director of the ACB.

German based agriculture and healthcare giant Bayer, has staked a
claim to the use of any extract from any plant of the Vernonia genus
in Madagascar for “improving the skin status.” The patent
application appears to violate international law as it duplicates
traditional knowledge held by indigenous communities in Madagascar.
Bayer has in particular, laid claim to a particular Vernonia species
endemic to Madagascar, known as ‘ambiaty’, which is used in their
skin cream “Ambiaty Daily Revitalizing Cream.” An average Malagasy
would exhaust his or her entire annual income on just seven jars of
the cream.

According to Mayet, “Patents can only be granted for new ideas and
inventions. Age old traditional knowledge can never be patented. In
order to get around patent laws, traditional knowledge is
mischievously being camouflaged in scientific lingo to appear as new

Louis Vuitton has obtained a patent from the US Patent Office which
allows it to lay claim to extracts from the seeds of the Aframomum
angustifolium, a native African plant, which it claims prevents ageing
skin. The seed extracts are sold as ‘Dior Capture Totale
Multi-Perfection Correction Serum” for US $135 for 28 grams.

The US Department of Health has been granted a patent on the viruses
taken from blood samples of indigenous people in the Cameroon.
“Taken together with the recent patent claims on African lactose
tolerance genes exposed by the ACB earlier this year, a disturbing
trend of patenting biomedical research materials taken from the bodies
of Africans is emerging”, said Mariam Mayet, of the ACB.

Some of the patent claimants say they intend to seek patents in South
Africa and other African countries. The study found little and in some
cases no evidence of the existence of prior informed consent
agreements for using the resources that form the subject matter of the
patents, nor mutually agreed benefit sharing arrangements, as required
by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

The full report can be found on the website of the African Centre for
Biosafety at

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