HC Deb 20 May 1998 vol 312 cc391-2W
Dr. Gibson

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will make a statement on the European Patent Directive on Biotechnology. [41016]

Mrs. Battle

[holding answer 7 May 1998]: The European Parliament voted on 12 May to adopt this Directive. The text adopted by the Parliament is identical to that of the Common Position which was agreed, with the support of the United Kingdom, by the Council of Ministers in February of this year. Formal adoption by the Council will follow, and the Directive will be published in the Official Journal of the European Communities. Member States have two years from the date of this publication in which to implement the provisions of the Directive into national law.

It is nearly ten years since the European Commission first made its proposal for a Directive. Search for the correct balance between the needs of industry for patents to foster research, and genuine ethical concerns about commercial rights in the biotechnological field have occupied much of this time. Now consensus has emerged, the Directive will make a significant contribution in reducing uncertainties presently surrounding patenting in Europe.

The Directive will not require substantial change to current United Kingdom law (the Patents Act 1977). In particular it would not render anything patentable which is not currently patentable in the UK. However, the Common Position does clarify that patents cannot be obtained in certain sensitive subject areas, that is human cloning, modifying human germ lines, and commercial uses of human embryos, thus strengthening UK law in these key areas of ethical concern. Patents will also not be obtainable for genetic modifications of animals unless there is substantial medical benefit.