MLA fights damaging livestock patent applications

17 November 2016

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) is fighting two patent applications which threaten the genetic advance of Australia’s cattle industry and its international competitiveness.
 
The actions include MLA’s launch of legal proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia to appeal an Australian Patent Office decision to grant an Australian patent to North American companies Cargill USA and Branhaven LLC over cattle selection methods.
 
MLA regards the application as a bid to patent general discoveries of nature in cattle research – with the patent so broad that it affects genomic selection for all cattle production traits.
 
Another genomic patent application, by Victorian Government subsidiary company Agriculture Victoria Services Pty Ltd, was opposed by MLA and CSIRO on similar grounds.
 
MLA Managing Director Richard Norton reported on MLA’s actions at the company’s Annual General Meeting in Hahndorf last week, as well as the significant scientific and financial implications for research agencies and the industry if the patents proceed.
 
Mr Norton has now written to MLA’s research partners, the Australian red meat and livestock industry’s peak councils and other stakeholders to alert them to MLA’s actions and the potential effects of the patent on their own activities.
 
If allowed to proceed to grant, MLA considers the Cargill/Branhaven patent will affect the use of most DNA-associated genetic tests in the industry.  Cargill USA and Branhaven LLC have licensed only a handful of commercial operators to provide those services on the payment of royalties.
 
At a minimum, MLA believes the granting of the patent will discourage or hamper industry research into understanding the natural genetic makeup of cattle and the continued progress of Australia’s national genetic improvement programs.
 
In turn, MLA fears there will be a subsequent impact on farm productivity and ultimately the Australian red meat industry, given the contribution that genetic improvement makes to their international competitiveness.
 
MLA’s investment in genomic research and development – on behalf of its levy payers and the Australian Government which matches industry’s research investment – is substantial and currently accounts for approximately 15% of MLA’s total on-farm R&D portfolio.
 
The hearing date for the case will be set down by the Federal Court in 2017.
 
Background:
 
The Cargill/Branhaven application is titled ‘Compositions, methods and systems for inferring bovine traits’ and covers “Cattle Selection Methods’. The broadest of the claims in the application encompasses:
 
A method for identifying a trait of a bovine subject from a nucleic acid sample of the bovine subject, comprising identifying in the nucleic acid sample an occurrence of at least three single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) wherein the at least three SNPs are associated with the trait, and wherein the at least three SNPs occur in more than one gene and wherein at least one of the SNPs corresponds to approximately 2500 listed SNPs, or within 500,000 or less nucleotides from the listed SNPs.
 
MLA opposed the patent application with the Australian Patent Office because of the potential impact on industry’s ability to adopt cattle genomic tools.  This was unsuccessful and the Australian Patent Office subsequently allowed the application to proceed on 6 May 2016.
 
MLA has elected to appeal the Patent Officer’s decision to the Federal Court.
 
MLA notes that Cargill Australia is not a party to these proceedings and that, through their corporate affairs office, Cargill Australia have been working very constructively with MLA to address our issues around the patent.
 
To view details of the patent application, visit http://pericles.ipaustralia.gov.au/ols/auspat/applicationDetails.do?applicationNo=2010202253

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