Plant and Animal Sciences Patents

South Africa

According to the patent laws of several countries, one cannot obtain biotechnological patent protection for plant or animal varieties, or essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals. However, as there has been no South African case law addressing this aspect of patent law, one has to look further afield to European and UK patent court decisions. It appears from the European Biotech Directive and the UK Patent Office practice manual that patent claims to a genetically modified plant per se (and not to a plant variety) are allowable in a biotechnological patent application.

While this difference may seem pedantic, it represents the difference between a patent application that may be considered valid and one that is invalid. The term “essentially biological processes” for plant or animal production refer generally to the process of obtaining new varieties by traditional breeding methods – plants or animals obtained in this way are not considered patentable. Should you have originated a new plant variety by conventional breeding, however, this may be protected by way of a Plant Breeders’ Rights application in South Africa, and not a patent.

The USA is the exception to this and issues so-called Plant Patents. Please let us know should you require patent assistance in this regard. Similarly, biotech patent claims to animals obtained by traditional breeding methods are not allowable at most Patent Offices, but a genetically modified animal is considered patentable in the UK, Europe and USA. There is currently no equivalent in the animal sciences field to the protection offered by Plant Breeders’ Rights.

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