Nestle Seeks Patent Over Fennel Flower Plant, Stirs Up Controversy

By Joseph Mandour on December 18, 2013

fennel-150x150 Los Angeles – Nestle has come under fire for its recent patent application seeking protection over an extraction of the fennel flower seed, which comes from a plant that has been used by humans since as early as the 10th century.   At the forefront of the groups that are criticizing the Swiss-based food leader is Sum of Us, an organization that identifies itself as “fighting for people over profits.” The group claims that Nestle is attempting to profit from the fennel flower itself, which has been used as a homeopathic remedy for thousands of years.

The patent filing has angered several groups including Sum of Us, which contends that Nestle fabricated the idea that it “discovered” that Nigella sativa, the binomial name for fennel flower, could be used to alleviate food allergies, when it has been used for this purpose for hundreds of years.   Sum of Us claims that “Instead of creating an artificial substitute, or fighting to make sure the remedy was widely available, Nestlé is attempting to create a Nigella sativa monopoly and gain the ability to sue anyone using it without Nestlé’s permission.”

In response, Nestle claims on its website that it is not attempting to patent the fennel flower itself.  Instead, it claims that its “patent application relates only to the specific way that thymoquinone – a compound that can be extracted from the seed of the fennel flower – interacts with opioid receptors in the body and helps to reduce allergic reactions to food.” Nestle goes on to respond to the controversy by stating that, “The fennel flower …  is a natural species, and nobody could, or should, benefit from ownership over it” and that, “we fully support the principle of fair access and benefit-sharing when it comes to the raw materials we use.”

The patent squabble has stirred up debate over the patentability of natural elements in general, a topic that has been generating more and more talk as of late.   Last year, in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics , the United States Supreme Court ruled that human DNA could not be patented in its innate form because it is a “product of nature.”  However, that court limited its ruling by pointing out that synthetic or human made DNA could be patented.  Since then, the global discussion about the line between nature and science has intensified and situations like it are continuing to lead to questions about the role of intellectual property protection.

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Posted in: Patent Registration