On 20 January 2016, following oral opposition proceedings, the European Patent Office (EPO) has apparently revoked a European patent held by Monsanto on certain virus-resistant melon plants. No Patents on Seeds, a European-based coalition initiated by various NGOs, was one of the groups in opposition to the melon patent, based on notices received by the EPO in February 2012.
According to the FAQ section on the EPO’s website, the so-called “Melon Patent” (EP 1,962,578) relates to melon plants resistant to a virus that attacks melons, turning them yellow and reducing fruit yield. The plants are made resistant by the introduction of a gene from another melon plant known to be naturally resistant to the Cucurbit Yellow Stunting Disorder virus (CYSDV) by way of a conventional breeding method involving the use of a genetic marker. The Melon Patent covers the modified plant, parts of the plant and its fruits and seeds, but not the breeding process for obtaining the plant.
The patent application was filed with the EPO on 21 December 2006 and the grant of the patent became effective on 4 May 2011. The patent has since been opposed by, inter alia, numerous NGOs. No Patents on Seeds said in its statement: “The patent was granted by the European Patent Office even though European patent law does not allow patents on plant varieties and processes for conventional breeding.” The group added: “Essentially the application of the patent constituted an act of biopiracy – violating Indian law and international treaties.”
Pursuant to information about the result of the oral proceedings that has been released by the EPO, the patent has been revoked “because at least one ground for opposition prejudices the maintenance of the European Patent (Art. 101(2) EPC).” According to a report issued by the website IP-Watch.org, an undisclosed EPO official stated that the patent has in particular been revoked because it was lacking sufficient disclosure of the Invention.