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Biotechnology

Volume 300: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1997

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To ask the President of the Board of Trade if the Government will ensure that full consultation on the EC directive on legal protection of biotechnological inventions takes place before it agrees to a decision at the Council of Ministers meeting on 27 November. [15340]

The Commission's proposals for a Directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions was circulated for comment in February 1996 to some 50 organisations and interests groups representing the professions, industry, consumers, the research community, groups concerned with the social and environmental impact of biotechnology, and including members organisations of the Standing Advisory Committee on Industrial Property, a body set up to advise Ministers on all aspects of industrial property.Interest in the Commission's proposals has increased since the European Parliament adopted its first Opinion in July of this year. To date, more that 150 organisations have received copies of the Commission's revised draft of the proposal which was produced in September in response to the Parliament's first Opinion. Comments have been received from these organisations, and we will take them all into account in determining the United Kingdom's position when this proposal is considered at the Internal Market Council on 27 November.

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what research she has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated to determine the impact of the Bio-technology Patent directive on (i) research in the medical field, (ii) world food supplies, (iii) conservation of biological diversity and (iv) agriculture in the developing world. [15343]

No specific research has been done to determine the impact of the Directive since the European Commission's proposal for legal protection of bio-technological inventions, apart from certain exclusions from patentability for ethical reasons, is substantially consistent with current United Kingdom legislation (the Patents Act 1997).Moreover, United Kingdom legislation provides for exceptions to patent rights to permit research in all technical areas, including the medical field. The Commission's proposal will permit individual member States, including the United Kingdom, to retain provisions which address the needs of those wishing to carry out research relating to patented inventions.Patent rights are created under national legislation. The proposed Directive will harmonise certain aspects of the national laws of the member States of the European Union, but rights will continue to be available only on a national basis. It is for other countries, including those in the developing world, and subject to minimum standards required from members of the World Trade Organisation, to provide patent regimes which meet their own needs and objectives. There is, therefore, no direct relationship between the Commission's proposal and matters outside Europe.The Commission's proposal makes it clear that the Directive is without prejudice to member States' obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity.