Biotech Updates

USPTO Overturns Controversial Yellow Bean Patent

May 9, 2008

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) reversed the controversial patent for a common yellow bean breed. The patent has raised profound concerns about biopiracy since it was granted to Larry Proctor of Colorado in 1999. Proctor bought the beans, known to locals as azufrado or Mayocoba, in Mexico and bred them for several years to grow plants that produce distinctly colored yellow seed and gave better harvest. He dubbed it as ‘Enola bean’. Proctor has been charging licensing fees on imports of yellow beans from Mexico, until the patent was challenged by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in 2001. CIAT says that the bean has been a familiar staple in Latin American diets for more than a century.

Proctor can contest the decision in federal court, and says he is consulting his lawyer. CIAT on their part said that “when food crops are involved, governments have a duty to ensure that [before granting patent protection] they have been presented with a clearly distinct and novel discovery and that the plant material used in the research and development was lawfully obtained.”

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