Activist Vandana Shiva and an Europe-based NGO have jointly opposed a patent awarded to an American company on virus resistance traits taken from indigenous melon varieties in India.

The NGOs — Navdanya and No Patent on Seeds — contend that, armed with this patent, the U.S. company (Monsanto) could block access to all breeding material inheriting the virus resistance derived from the Indian melon.

Seeking complete revocation of the patent the NGOs, in their application filed in the European Patent Office in Munich on Friday, said that the patent (EP 1 962 578) on Closterovirus-resistant Melon plants should not have been granted as it was not an invention but a case of “bio-piracy.”

Melons have a natural resistance to certain plant viruses. In the case of Cucurbit Yellow Stunting Disorder virus (CYSDV) — which has been spreading through North America, Europe and North Africa for several years — certain melons are known to be naturally resistant to it. Using conventional breeding methods, this type of resistance was introduced from an Indian melon to other melons and has now been patented as a Monsanto “invention.”

After the patent, Monsanto could block access to breeding material which inherits genetic conditions that confer resistance.

The NGOs regard this patent an abuse of patent law because it contravenes European law that excludes patents on conventional breeding. Further, they maintain that it was a case of bio piracy, since the original plants came from India and were registered in international seed banks.

“Patents like this are blocking access to the genetic resources necessary for further breeding, and basic resources needed for daily life are subordinated to monopolisation and financial speculation,” the NGOs said in their application.

They maintained that in the Monsanto patent case, the European Patent Office excluded the process for melon breeding. The plants and all their parts, such as the seeds and the melon fruit, have been patented as an ‘invention.' Therefore, the patent was only changed cosmetically but not in substance.

DeRuiter, a Netherland seed company, originally developed the melons using a non-sweet melon from India. Monsanto acquired the seed company in 2008 and now also owns the patent.

“We believe that plants and seeds are not human inventions and therefore, not patentable. This patent is based on bio-piracy since it patents traits taken from indigenous melon varieties from India,” said Ms. Shiva. She demanded a ban on all patents on life and living organisms including genes, breeding material and biodiversity.

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