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PATNEWS: NIH disclaims patent on human cell line from indigenous person (fwd)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 1996 19:14:27 -0500
From: Gregory Aharonian <email@example.com>
Subject: PATNEWS: NIH disclaims patent on human cell line from indigenous person
!19961203 NIH disclaims patent on human cell line from an indigenous person
The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) sent out the following
press release today (info about RAFI on the bottom). This issue is not going
Internet Patent News Service
*** US GOVERNMENT DUMPS THE HAGAHAI PATENT ***
*** Official Notice to Coincide with Human Rights Day ***
After months of indecision and confusing signals, the US National
Institutes of Health (NIH) has finally put an end to its internationally
denounced patent on the human cell line of a Hagahai indigenous person from
Papua New Guinea. "I hope this is the end of what is arguably the most
offensive patent ever issued." says Alejandro Argumedo of the Canada-based
Indigenous Peoples' Biodiversity Network (IPBN).
While not yet officially announced, NIH filed paperwork to "disclaim"
the patent at the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) on October 24, 1996.
The NIH disclaimer forfeits all of the US Government's "past and future
rights in each and every claim of United States Patent No. 5,397,696...
thereby relinquishing all control over said patent."
"Three up, three down." says RAFI's Executive Director Pat Mooney,
referring to the trio of US Government patents and patent applications on
indigenous peoples' cell lines that RAFI has opposed. "With Panamanian
indigenous people from the Guaymi General Congress, we successfully pressured
the US to withdraw its first patent application for an indigenous persons'
cells." says Mooney. "Later, in collaboration with the Solomon Islands
Government, RAFI surpressed another US government patent application for the
cells of a citizen of that country."
"Once a patent is granted, it's harder to get rid of." says RAFI's Edward
Hammond. "This made the job more difficult in the Hagahai case. Despite
initial statements by the US Government that it had the informed consent of
the Hagahai and approval of the Papua New Guinea Government for the patent,
under a RAFI Freedom of Information Act petition
NIH produced nothing to substantiate these claims." But NIH still
stubbornly clung to the patent until charges of bio-colonialism from
indigenous people, NGOs, and foreign governments across the globe forced it
Even in disclaiming the patent, NIH has left unaddressed many of the
numerous inconsistencies and missteps that have dogged the US government
since the beginning of the patent controversy in 1994. A backgrounder on
the patent recently prepared by NIH "raises many more questions than the
few it credibly answers" says Neth Dano of the South East Asia Regional
Institute for Community Education (SEARICE) in the Philippines.
"We've been consistent, and right, all along while the US government
has equivocated and contradicted itself." says Dano. "If, as the US State
Department said, they patented the Hagahai 'for their benefit', why did
the US not even bother to contact the Hagahai when it gave up the patent?
Why does NIH blame a reseacher in Papua New Guinea for the US Government's
own patent? The Papua New Guinea Institute for Medical Research has said
that it followed NIH's lead."
According to NIH, government notice of the patent disclaimer is slated
to appear in the Patent and Tradmark Office's Official Gazette on December
10, which is also International Human Rights Day. While the PTO's timing of
the announcement appears to be coincidence, indigenous people and NGOs find
it poignant and ironic.
"There has been no greater affront to fundamental human rights by Western
intellectual property systems than the Hagahai patent," says Argumedo "The
disclaimer is cause for celebration for indigenous people. At the same time
it gives us all a chance to reflect on the immorality of industrialized
countries allowing the commodification of human cells, genes, and other
Although the US Government's strikeout on indigenous peoples' cell line
patents is encouraging, the scope and number of patents on human tissues
is dramatically expanding. Indigenous people, RAFI, and other NGOs remain
vigilant and oppose other current and future moves to patent human tissues.
Ontario, Canada: Pat Mooney or Jean Christie, RAFI
Tel: (613) 567-6880
Fax: (613) 567-6884
Alejandro Argumedo, IPBN
Tel: (613) 237-5361
Fax: (613) 237-1547
North Carolina, USA: Edward Hammond or Hope Shand, RAFI
Tel: (919) 542-1396
Fax: (919) 542-0069
Manila, Philippines Neth Dano or Rene Salazar, SEARICE
On the internet: http://www.charm.net/~rafi/rafihome.html
ABOUT RAFI: RAFI is an international non-governmental organization
headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada) with affiliate offices in
Pittsboro, North Carolina (USA). RAFI is dedicated to the conservation and
sustainable improvement of agricultural biodiversity, and to the socially
responsible development of technologies useful to rural societies. RAFI
is concerned about the loss of genetic diversity - especially in agriculture
- and about the impact of intellectual property rights on agriculture and
world food security.