Patent applications based on genetic resources (SEBI 024) - Assessment published May 2010
Biodiversity (Primary topic)
- SEBI 024
Key policy question: What share of European patents is biodiversity-related?
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.
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.
- No datasets have been specified.
More information about this indicator
See this indicator specification for more details.
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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