The big breweries Carlsberg and Heineken jointly filed for patents on barley used for the production of beer and other beverages. The patents, EP2384110 and EP2373154, were granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2016. They cover barley plants derived from conventional breeding, their usage in brewing as well as the beer brewed thereof. The patents in question are based on random mutations in the genome of the barley. Kernels were brought into contact with chemicals and in reaction showed an increase in their genetic variability. Thereafter, specific mutations, already known to be useful, were selected by standard procedures. The kernels are supposedly more suitable for brewing beer that, it is hoped, will keep its fresh taste over longer period of time. Furthermore, in 2016, the EPO granted a third patent (EP2575433) that covers a combination of the characteristics of the barley plants achieved by further crossings. Each of the three patents covers the plants, the harvest, the process for brewing, malt and wort and all drinks produced by this method.
Therefore, in 2017, NO PATENTS ON SEEDS!, together with around 40 other organizations, filed oppositions against these patents. Public hearings have been held on October 2nd and 8th 2018. NO PATENTS AND SEEDS! also held an event for everyone interested to join and show their support in front of the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich.
As a result, the patents were restricted and reduced to certain plants with specific mutations concerning the flavour of the beer. This decision is only a partial success, but a step in the right direction has been taken. But despite legally binding rules, the EPO continues to grant patents on plants derived from conventional breeding. NO PATENTS ON SEEDS! filed a complaint against the decision arguing that the patents have to be revoked completely. A hearing on patent EP2373154 was held on 8 June 2021. The patent was upheld. More info in the press release (8 June 2021).
New research carried out by NO PATENTS ON SEEDS! has revealed that Carlsberg has filed further patent applications claiming barley and beer in 2019. There is no technical innovation described in the three new patent applications (WO2019129736, WO2019129739, WO2019134962), and no methods of genetic engineering are applied. Instead, well-known processes were used to trigger random mutations: seeds from barley plants were brought into contact with chemicals to speed up the mutation rate and enhance genetic diversity. Afterwards, further crossing and selection was carried out to breed plants with desirable characteristics. Barley kernels with changed starch composition are supposedly useful in the brewing process. Even though there is nothing new or technical in the process described in the patent, the company is claiming the resulting seeds, plants, the harvest as well as food and beverages, such as beer, as its invention. More info in our press release from 10 April 2020 and in our research report from 2020.
Photos of actions against the beer patents
13 April 2020, Gylle (DK), Carlsberg ansøger atter om patenter på byg og øl
18 October 2018, Ingeniøren (DK), Carlsberg og Heineken får indskrænket patenter på muteret byg
5 October 2018, IPPro Patents, EPO reduces scope of ‘unlawful’ beer patent following hearing
4 October 2018, The Times, Breweries in a ferment over barley patent
Media reports in German can be found on the German version of this site.
title photo: (c) Johannes Hloch