Bio-piracy fears tackled in food and cosmetics seminar

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Bio-piracy accusations are a growing concern for food and cosmetics companies sourcing natural ingredients abroad, according to the Union for Ethical Biotrade, which has organised an event to tackle the subject.

For companies sourcing biodiversity-based ingredients for food and cosmetics products, the pressure to behave ethically and in a way that benefits the local community is mounting.

One potential stumbling block is patents. According to the Union for Ethical Biotrade, which aims to promote the ethical trade of biodiversity-based products, patents are a controversial topic when it comes to the Convention of Biodiversity (CBD), an international treaty to sustain the earth’s biodiversity.

If, as in the eyes of the CBD, biodiversity is the property of the country in which it is found, then a company coming in, finding an ingredient and patenting it could be seen as bio-piracy, explained Maria Julia Oliva from the Union.

“The idea behind the upcoming conference is to try to find some solutions to this problem. What strategies are open to companies looking at patents related to naturally-sourced ingredients,”​ she told CosmeticsDesign.

The one day event takes place in Geneva, Switzerland, on October 22, and features presentations from patent lawyers working in these two sectors, as well talks on the link between patents and bio-piracy.

The morning session includes a presentation from Asha Sukhwani from the Spanish patent office, focusing on current trends in the food and cosmetics patents. The talk will cover whether companies are increasingly taking out patents on naturally sourced ingredients and if so, in what form they take.

Concerns that the patent system is being used to misappropriate biodiversity and related knowledge will be brought to the floor by Tomme Young and Christoph Then, who will give their views on what is wrong with the system and why.

The afternoon session tries to find some answers, according to Oliva, with an investigation of the potential strategies open to companies looking to take out patents on natural ingredients, and the associated risks and benefits.

Michael Gollin from the Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisers and Prof Christiane Derani from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, will lead this session.

The day will close with an open discussion session where participants and speakers will be invited to explore concrete examples in the food and cosmetic sectors and potential ideas and conclusions.

“We believe it is important to create a constructive environment for discussion,”​ said Oliva of the participatory session.

For more information about this conference and how to attend, please visit the website​.

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