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Erosion, Technology and Concentration Group | December 17, 2001

How can monopoly patents threaten food security and the livelihoods of farmers? The controversial Enola bean patent demonstrates the abuses of intellectual property monopoly:

A US patent on a yellow bean variety has disrupted export markets for Mexican bean growers and is now wreaking havoc on small farmers and seed companies in the United States. The patent makes it illegal for unlicensed users in the United States to grow, sell, import, or use the proprietary yellow bean seeds.

Larry Proctor, the president of Pod-Ners seed company (Colorado, USA) and the owner of the controversial US patent on a yellow-colored bean variety, filed a lawsuit on 30 November 2001 against 16 small bean seed companies and farmers in Colorado, claiming that they are violating the
patent by illegally growing and selling his yellow "Enola" bean. Proctor holds both a US Patent and a US Plant Variety Protection certificate on the Enola yellow bean.

"We were shocked to be accused of infringing Proctor's intellectual property," said Bob Brunner, President of Northern Feed & Bean, "We've been growing yellow beans from Mexico since 1997 - and they are not Proctor's Enola beans." Brunner told ETC group that his yellow bean seeds come from Sinaloa, Mexico.

Farmer and civil society organizations have condemned the Enola patent as a textbook case of biopiracy because Proctor readily admits that his proprietary bean seed originates from a bag of edible dry beans he purchased in Sonora, Mexico in 1994. In his 1997 application for plant
variety protection, Proctor wrote, "The yellow bean, 'Enola' variety is most likely a landrace from the azufrado-type varieties" (which originate in Mexico).

The Enola bean patent is the focus of international controversy from Colorado to Cali. The patent is being legally challenged by an international plant breeding institute in Cali, Colombia, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The challenge is supported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

CIAT and FAO have responsibility for holding crop seeds in-trust for the world's farming community. CIAT's gene bank holds more than 27,000 samples of Phaseolus (dry bean) seeds, and some 260 samples of yellow seeds. Although Proctor did not obtain bean seed from the Colombian gene
bank, CIAT's legal challenge notes that six bean accessions found in its gene bank are "substantially identical" to claims made in Proctor's patent. CIAT and FAO officials are concerned that the Enola bean patent could obstruct CIAT's mission to freely distribute yellow beans and to keep these seeds in the public domain.

CIAT's legal challenge points out the yellow bean was "misappropriated" from Mexico, and violates Mexico's sovereign rights over its genetic resources, as recognized by the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Patent Challenge Stalled at US Patent and Trademark Office: It has been almost one year since CIAT filed its request for re-examination of the Enola bean patent. The PTO's decision has been stalled because Larry Proctor's lawyers have amended the original patent by filing 43 new claims! The PTO responded by merging the re-examination proceedings with the re-issue proceedings, thus complicating and delaying a final decision.