Patent applications based on genetic resources
Biodiversity has served as a major resource for patent activity across a wide swathe of science and technology sectors ranging from agriculture to cosmetics, functional foods, traditional medicines, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and emerging developments such as synthetic biology. About 9 % of European patent activity relates to biodiversity, rising to 16 % if the full spectrum of pharmaceutical activity is included. After rapid growth, patent activity for biodiversity now shows a declining trend.
The decrease from 2005 seen in Figure 1 is due to the time lag between the filing of a patent and its publication (2 years and more). This means that for recent years, the data may not yet be in the database (see Oldham and Hall, 2009). Additional work is required to link the data with wider economic and geographical information.
What share of European patents is biodiversity-related?
Biodiversity patent trends for European countries (publication portfolio)
Note: Patent publication counts by publication year
Oldham, P. D. and Hall, S., 2009. A European Patent Indicator for Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/ abstract=1397108 [Accessed 11 May 2009].
The third objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity is concerned with the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources. This objective is linked to access to genetic resources encompassing a spectrum of biodiversity and the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities. Parties to the Convention are negotiating an international regime on access and benefit-sharing to implement the third objective. Intellectual property of all types generated an estimated $110 billion in licensing revenue in 2004 and is an important issue with respect to access, benefit-sharing and 'biopiracy'. Data from the World Patent Statistical Database allows for the analysis of country portfolios for biodiversity and traditional knowledge, and of overall and sectoral trends.
Trends in biodiversity related patents are of direct relevance to the access and benefit sharing provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity in four areas:
- first, patent applicants must disclose information on the materials used in a claimed invention. This provides a means to examine access to biodiversity and traditional knowledge in relation to its origin
- second, sectoral trends (i.e. agriculture, traditional medicines, biotechnology) can be examined and linked to economic and geographical data. This provides a bridge to addressing issues of relevance to benefit-sharing;
- third, patents provide a measure of international cooperation where inventors and companies from more than one country are involved and this is linked with the promotion of technology transfer under the Convention;
- fourth, as a standardised global information system, the patent system allows for the detailed monitoring of trends in activity for patents and related forms of intellectual property across multiple areas of science and technology.
Within the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity work is currently ongoing to clarify the meaning and scope of the utilisation of genetic resources and related subjects such as the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities. The indicator can contribute to this process and be refined in accordance with the outcomes of these debates. In particular the treatment of patent activity for the pharmaceutical sector has major impacts on the indicator and requires further clarification. Additional work is also required to link the data with wider economic and geographical information and to advance understanding of the origins of material submitted for patent protection from particular countries and indigenous peoples and local communities. The use of emerging information technology and electronic whole-text patent databases will facilitate this process.
Access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing is one facet of the growing appreciation for the social and economic value of biological diversity. In the realm of innovation, new and more 'open' models for innovation and access and benefit-sharing are being proposed to serve the needs of the 21st Century and to reflect these wider values. The patent indicator can contribute to evidence-based approaches to existing trends and be adapted to meet longer term needs as new models emerge.
Growing appreciation for the economic value of biodiversity is being achieved more broadly, as documented by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report under preparation and different statements by G8, the United Nations General Assembly and the Conference of the Parties to CBD.
For the purpose of this indicator, European patent applications are defined as follows:
(i) Patent applications presented to the national intellectual property offices of the pan-European Countries;
(ii) Patent applications presented to the European Patent Office (EPO) under the EPC (European Patent Convention);
(iii) Patent applications presented to the European Patent Office or the World Intellectual Property Organization under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) when pan-European countries are mentioned among the designated Contracting States of the PCT from which protection is sought.
The draft headline indicator was developed using the World Patent Statistical Database (PATSTAT, October 2007). The PATSTAT database was developed by the European Patent Office in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to provide an international baseline for patent statistics. For a detailed discussion on the methodology see Oldham and Hall (2009).
A key emerging issue in debates under the Convention on Biological Diversity is the scope of the meaning of utilization of genetic resources that are the focus of benefit-sharing. The indicator encompasses emerging understandings of the scope of the meaning of utilization of genetic resources.
However, the relationship between genetic resources and chemical compounds for use in the pharmaceutical and other industry sectors, known as 'derivatives', has a major impact on the indicator requiring clarification. The indicator is designed to be flexible in order to accommodate emerging understandings under the Convention.
- Oldham, P. D. and Hall, S., 2009. A European Patent Indicator for Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1397108 [Accessed 11 May 2009].
- World Intellectual Property Organisation: www.wipo.int/portal/index.html.en.
- European Patent Office: www.epo.org.
- OECD page on biotechnology: www.oecd.org/topic/0,3373,en_2649_37437_1_1_1_1_37437,00.html.
- Convention on Biological Diversity: www.cbd.int.
Indicator specification and metadata
The indicator shows the share of European patent applications that are based on genetic resources.
The following types of patent applications would be considered 'European patent applications':
- Patent applications presented to the national intellectual property offices of the pan-European countries;
- Patent applications presented to the European Patent Office (EPO) under the EPC (European Patent Convention); and
- Patent applications presented to the European Patent Office or the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) under the PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty), when pan-European countries are mentioned among the designated Contracting States of the PCT in which protection is sought.
The CBD (art. 2) defines 'genetic resources' as genetic material of actual or potential value. 'Genetic material,' in turn, is defined as any material of plant, animal, microbial or other origin containing functional units of heredity. Nevertheless, there is still no conclusive answer to what resources and uses are covered by these definitions. The methodology proposed for this indicator attempts to address this uncertainty.
In this regard, it is also worth noting that while access and benefit-sharing provisions refer solely to genetic resources, the CBD also contains references to the importance of equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities.
number of patent publications
biodiversity proportion of patent portfolio
Policy context and targets
Information on the number of patents being sought or granted for products and processes developed on the basis of genetic resources would provide critical insight into the role and relevance of genetic resources in diverse economic sectors and, potentially, the degree to which such role and relevance have been recognized and equitably rewarded. Since the number of patents granted in the pan-European region is significant - nearly 35 % of patents in force at the end of 2004 were granted by the contracting States of the European Patent Convention (EPC) - the information could, moreover, potentially inform not only regional but also global policies(1).
The fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources is one of the main objectives of the CBD. The implementation of the CBD goals and provisions on benefit-sharing, however, has proved difficult. Intellectual property rights, especially patents, act as incentives for trade and investment that thus promote the creation of benefits from the use of genetic resources. Nevertheless, the existence of patents for inventions based on genetic resources has also raised a number of ethical concerns and concerns on the impacts on science and innovation.
(1) Trilateral Statistical Report, 2005. In 2005, the European Patent Convention entered into force in Latvia, which so became the 31st EPC Contracting state. By the end of the year, the members of the underlying European Patent Organization were: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Other states have agreements with the European Patent Office to allow applicants to request an extension of European patents to their territory. These states are: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro. Other states that have recently expressed their intention to join the organisation are Norway, Malta, and Croatia.
Relation of the indicator to the focal area
Percentage of patent applications directly relates to access and benefit sharing, as it concerns the documentation of the use of genetic diversity for commercial or other use though a patent. Documenting such use is essential to enable an assessment of whether benefits from the use are equitably shared.
No targets have been specified
Related policy documents
No related policy documents have been specified
Methodology for indicator calculation
'Classification codes' are awarded to patent publications to facilitate the retrieval of information on inventions in particular technological fields. As they systematize and allow retrieval of information on inventions covered by patent publications, classification codes can also be used for a number of additional purposes, including locating and sorting through inventions based on genetic resources.
There are several classification systems that operate at the national, regional, and international level. Of these systems, the International Patent Classification (IPC) and the European Classification system (ECLA) are particularly relevant for the indicator. The IPC is the main classification system at the international level, currently being used by over 90 countries and five international patent organizations. It is frequently revised, with the latest version of the IPC - IPC 8 - containing approximately 70 000 classifiers. To ensure the proposed indicator can be compared with other patent-based information and be considered in the CBD and other international negotiations, it would make sense to take the IPC as its basis. The challenge is then to find, within the IPC, the classifications codes relevant for inventions based on genetic resources.
The steps for calculating the indicator would then be the following:
1. Determining the total number of patent applications in the pan-European region. The first step is to determine the total number of European patents applications including those presented nationally, regionally and internationally.
2. Identifying the patent applications for inventions based on genetic resources. The patent applications under each and all the relevant IPC classifiers then need to be determined. Both the total number of biodiversity-based patent applications and the specific number for certain sectors and technologies would be established.
3. Calculating the percentage that the patent applications for inventions based on genetic resources constitute in considering the total number of patent applications.
The key decision is therefore which IPC classification codes to use.
One option is to aim for a broad coverage indicator. An extensive selection of codes has been proposed to ensure all possible patent applications using genetic resources are being captured. See Annex 2 for a list of the potentially relevant codes. As can be seen from the list, there may of course be codes that capture applications that are not based on genetic resources. Further work is therefore required in order to refine the list, or to allow for more specific filtering within the codes proposed.
An alternative proposed here as a first proxy for the indicator is to use a narrow but well established set of classification codes, the ones used by OECD for patent applications for biotechnology, many of which are based on genetic resources. See Annex 1 for the list of codes proposed. The indicator would be a proxy for broader trends in the use of the components of biodiversity and related traditional knowledge in inventions. It also has the benefit of having been already used and refined by the OECD.
OECD has selected these codes through the following steps:
1. Analysis of the IPC classification, starting at the section level, followed by sub-sections, classes, sub-classes, groups and sub-groups.
2. Keyword search, identifying the IPC codes wherein these keywords are used most frequently.
3. Analysis of patents owned by biotechnology firms (OECD, 2005).
It should be noted that the OECD definition is currently being revised to include comments and suggestions received from experts and relevant stakeholders. The WIPO International Bureau, for instance, has put forth a number of additional classifications codes that it considers should be taken into account.
Of course, none of these lists match the exact scope of the proposed indicator as currently construed - 'inventions based on genetic resources.' The OECD definition for biotechnology patents is narrower, while the work of WIPO and Oldham (2006 a. and b.) on biodiversity more general is broader. In the latter, additional work would thus be necessary to determine the specific significance of patent information resulting from the calculation of the indicator to the benefit-sharing provisions in the CBD. On the contrary, narrower approaches such as the one developed by the OECD for biotechnology could be considered to follow a stricter definition of the use of genetic resources and thus be used in the implementation of the proposed indicator.
Nevertheless, given that the definition of 'genetic resources' remains imprecise at international level, a more comprehensive methodology that could later be narrowed down remains the most useful approach in the long term to a patent-based indicator for benefit-sharing.
Methodology for gap filling
No methodology for gap filling has been specified. Probably this info has been added together with indicator calculation.
No methodology references available.
No uncertainty has been specified
Data sets uncertainty
No uncertainty has been specified
MAIN DISADVANTAGES OF THE INDICATOR
- While methodology is straightforward, and data exist, using the PATSTAT database will require more time and work.
ANALYSIS OF OPTIONS
Ideally, the broader set of classification codes could be used to ensure that all applications related to biodiversity are captured. But since an indicator based on the broad set without further work may result in an overestimation, it is proposed to use an indicator based on applications for biotechnology patents as a proxy.
- No datasets have been specified.
Biodiversity (Primary topic)
- SEBI 024
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoKatarzyna Biala
EEA Management Plan2010 1.2.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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