THE outcome of a legal battle to prevent the patenting of cattle genomics technology appears to be in the hands of global meat giant Cargill.
Following a Federal Court of Australia judgement on Friday, the two United States companies that jointly own the patent application, Cargill and Branhaven LLC, have a short period to make changes to their bid in order to address the judge’s concerns over the scope of the claim.
Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) has appealed the issuing of the patent, and Justice Beach last week found merit in some of MLA’s argument but opted to withhold a final order until Cargill and Branhaven had been given the opportunity to return with an amended application.
Since the start of MLA’s appeal in 2016, Cargill has distanced itself from what many consider to be a brazen attempt to patent technology crucial to the Australian cattle industry’s future.
Cargill Australia issued a statement in November 2016 saying the company would not be actively defending the appeal and explaining it did not have full ownership of the application and could therefore not withdraw the application without the consent of Branhaven.
Branhaven is believed to be a company with no direct ties to the cattle industry but rather one that specialises in patent portfolios. It acquired its interest in this patent following the bankruptcy of Cargill’s previous partner in genomics work Metamorphix.
Legal experts said under the joint ownership, Cargill would have to agree to any amendments to the application.
Failure to make those changes would likely result in MLA’s appeal being upheld - the outcome producers, and the wider beef industry, is desperately seeking.
Peak producer group Cattle Council of Australia said the broadness of this patent was a huge threat to Australia’s beef industry.
“Effectively, it puts up barriers to the ease and cost of using cutting-edge technology which our competitors, some with far deeper pockets, are going to be progressing with,” chief executive officer Margo Andrae said.
“The ideal situation would be for the beef industry to be put first and the companies involved to not take the claim any further.”
Cargill has not made any comment since Friday’s ruling as the matter is still before the court.
Cattle breeders said genomics technology was a very important tool to assist in the future genetic improvement of livestock in Australia.
“We do not wish to see unreasonable restrictions on the use of this technology, or granting of non-specific patents that will drive up the cost of using it,” said Angus Australia chief executive officer Peter Parnell.
“We welcome the Federal Court’s recent decision requiring Branhaven/Cargill to provide greater clarity to support their patent claims.”
Dr Parnell said the importance of patents and trademarks as incentives for investment in innovation was recognised, however the Branhaven/Cargill bid appeared too broad and non-specific with regards to the use of genomics technology for livestock improvement.
“We do need ongoing investment to reduce the cost of genomics technology over time, but this should not be associated with arbitrary granting of trademarks and patents that potentially have the reverse impact on the future affordability of the technology,” Dr Parnell said.
“Angus Australia applauds MLA’s efforts in representing the interests of its members in appealing the original decision by the Australian Patent Office in allowing this patent application to proceed.”
Herefords Australia general manager Andrew Donoghue said DNA and genomics would play a significant role in the future of both seedstock and commercial cattle production and also threw his support behind MLA’s legal fight.