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ILVO press release - Friday, April 20, 2018

Global conference at ILVO provides clarification about patents on plants

ILVO hosts about 100 international representatives from the ornamental and fruit breeding sector at the annual CIOPORA conference
After years of uncertainty and discussions about what can or cannot be patented in the plant world, the European Patent Office (EPO) has now provided clarification. Plant properties that are new to a crop can be patented only if they are the result of an invention. During the world conference of CIOPORA, the international association of ornamental and fruit breeders, patent specialist Heli Pihlajamaa from EPO will clarify this issue.
This year’s conference will take place at ILVO on Thursday 26 April 2018. Also on the program: an overview of new breeding techniques such as CRISPR-Cas, the potential of this technique for the breeders in practice, and legal implications.
ILVO expects to welcome about 100 representatives from breeding companies and organizations as well as IP-experts. Precisely 50 years ago our Flemish research institution hosted this prestigious event. This year’s conference organization is in the capable hands of the CIOPORA biotech working group, chaired by ILVO researcher Jan de Riek.

Patent on a plant? Yes, but…

CioporaThanks to an amendment of the European Patent Convention (EPC), breeders can now patent a property in a plant on the condition that this property is new to that plant and is the result of an invention or innovative technique.

A hypothetical example will make this clearer:

The color blue does not exist naturally in azalea. If a breeder would succeed in creating a blue azalea (= new property) by detecting and activating the right gene for that color (= innovative technique), the blue azalea could be patented.

BUT, suppose that somewhere in the world, there is already a blue azalea on the market (= not new). Therefore, it cannot be patented. Despite use of an innovative technique to create a blue azalea, the result is not new.
Why is this important? Good or bad news?

A patent is a way for breeders to protect their work and get compensation for it. Anyone who wants to commercialize or use the patented plant must obtain a license and pay royalties. But is the recent EPC amendment good news or bad news for breeders?

Jan De Riek: "It mainly creates clarity. And that is good news, not only because patents provide protection for the breeder, but they also form the basis for scientific progress. After all, a patent always notes how the breeder has worked. And that information is publicly available."

Biotech evolves quickly: time for an update

The main topic of the CIOPORA global conference on Thursday, 26 April 2017 is 'Technical and legal aspects of biotechnology in ornamental and fruit breeding'. This conference takes place at the request of the members - about 125 breeding companies, breeders' associations and IP experts from all over the world. CIOPORA defends their interests and provides information and advice on the protection of their intellectual property.

Jan De Riek, ILVO researcher and chair of the CIOPORA biotech working group: "The innovations in biotechnology follow each other so quickly that our members need an update: how should they deal with these new technologies? Which perspectives do they offer? And what is the best protection for their intellectual work?"

Also on the program: new breeding techniques

In addition to the long-awaited lecture by Heli Pihlajamaa (EPO) about the new rules in patent law (afternoon session), various presentations will be given by experts from prominent European research institutes, such as ILVO, Ghent University, VIB and Wageningen UR. In the morning, ILVO researcher Annelies Haegeman dives deeper into next generation sequencing, important for DNA and RNA analysis. Then ILVO researcher Tom Eeckhaut will talk about a specific type of plant cells (protoplasts), and will also explain the promising CRISPR-Cas technology. Details about the program.

The CIOPORA members will stay in Ghent for a whole week as part of the annual conference. On Friday, visitors can tour ILVO’s Plant Sciences Unit as well as spin-off organizations from the Flemish Institute of Biotechnology (VIB).


The conference on Thursday 26 April 2018 is free for members of the press and other interested parties. Location: ILVO Plant Sciences Unit, Caritasstraat 39 in Melle, from 08:30h to 17:45h. The complete program is available at For an interview with one of the speakers or with Jan de Riek, please contact Greet Riebbels.


Greet Riebbels, ILVO Communication:, M +32 486 26 00 14
Jan De Riek, ILVO researcher:, T. +32 9 272 28 81