Patent on Animal Sperm

Selecting cells and ‘inventing’ sperm

Patent auf TierherdeThe French company Genes Diffusion uses a technical device and a fluorescent marker to select sperm cells according to the expected sex of the offspring (WO201834281EP3570978).

What does the company claim to have ‘invented’? They describe a technical process of separating cells according to their sex. The technical device can be used for cattle, pigs, sheep, horses, goats and rabbits. The company claims the technical process and the selected sperm cells as its ‘invention’.
If the patent is granted, the breeding material will be controlled by the patent owner. Patents on sperm cells used in animal breeding are already a major issue in the US, where Inguran has a far-reaching patent monopoly on sex selection in cattle breeding; other companies challenging Inguran in this very competitive sector include Genus and ABS global.

This patent shows that appropriation of biological material necessary for animal breeding might also become an issue in Europe. Therefore, the Administrative Council tried in June 2017 to exclude patents on animal germ cells that can be used for propagation (gametes). However, the patent might nevertheless be granted if the legal uncertainty at the EPO prevails. Patents on gametes of animals, such as sperm cells or oocytes, might ultimately allow the patent holder to control, intervene, hamper or even block conventional livestock breeding.

(Text extract from our report 2020)