Captain Hook Awards 2004

The Winners of the last Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracy in 2004, awarded to the companies and governments who have done the most to monopolize genetic resources, traditional knowledge or culture...

Worst Betrayal

Winner: Luis Inacio Lula da Silva (President of Brazil)

For his government's December 2003 proposal in Montreal to allow field tests of Terminator/GURT technologies through the CBD. In September 2003 Brazil's president overruled popular opposition to GM crops and legalized the planting of transgenic soybeans. The decision threatens biodiversity in the unique cerrado ecosystem and the Amazonas because it opens up the region to the planting of GM soya.

Most Outrageous

Soil & Crop Improvement (The Netherlands)

For seeking to negotiate joint ownership of Ethiopian teff varieties with the Ethiopian government, and for falsely claiming that Soil & Crop "has acquired intellectual property for growing the teff crop as well as for the production of all products containing teff or teff-flour."

Teff (Eragrostis teff) is a small cereal grain, closely resembling millet, that is widely grown in Ethiopia and Eritrea to make injera, a fermented, flat bread that is the most popular staple in the local diet. Teff is known for its superior nutritional qualities; it is a major contributor to nutrition in the Ethiopian diet.

Soil & Crop (S&C) Improvement B.V. is a small company based in the Netherlands that cooperates with business partners worldwide in the development of teff and teff products. The company not only breeds teff varieties, it also grows teff and processes low-gluten teff flour. Despite its claim that the company holds intellectual property on teff varieties and teff flour products, the Chief Financial Officer of S&C, Mr. Hans Turkensteen, admits that the company currently holds no intellectual property, but is in the process of applying for both patents and plant breeders' rights on teff and teff products. The company now seeks plant breeders' rights on ten teff varieties, and will apply for two patents on teff. S&C indicates that it will apply for patents or plant breeders' rights on the teff varieties "depending on the fastest and most secure way to do things."

According to Mr. Turkensteen, S&C currently has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Ethiopian government (through the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organization - EARO), which offers the Ethiopian government joint ownership of teff varieties developed by S&C. The company developed these varieties using germplasm it obtained from Ethiopia and from US-based universities. The MOU also provides that 5% of S&C's net profits would be directed into a fund to support Ethiopian agriculture. When asked how the funds might be used in Ethiopia, Mr. Turkensteen indicated that the funds might be used to help Ethiopians register their own varieties. (In other words, to promote intellectual property regimes.) Under the terms of the MOU, the jointly-held teff varieties could be freely used in Ethiopia, "but not for the purpose of competing against S&C business case in defined markets."

According to S&C, the Ethiopian government has indicated interest in renegotiating the current MOU - although the company declined to provide further details of the existing MOU or the subject of future negotiations. Turkensteen told ETC Group that he is frustrated by the slow process of negotiations with the Ethiopian government, and he indicated that S&C plans to seek intellectual property "with or without them".
Like the other Captain Hook Award winners, S&C has done nothing illegal. Many would say that the company is well-intentioned, and has negotiated a generous benefit-sharing agreement with the Ethiopian government. But the company appears to be oblivious to the fact that they are seeking to monopolize teff varieties that were developed over millennia by Ethiopian farmers and community plant breeders. Ignorance of diversity is no excuse for monopoly! Offering joint ownership of Ethiopian teff to the Ethiopian government is like asking Ethiopia to betray its farmers and become "equal partners" in a shameful and offensive act of biopiracy.


Winner: Genetic Technologies, Limited (Australia)

For having patented the non-coded DNA (so-called "junk DNA") of all living creatures, including humans. When the early sequences of the human genome were released in 2000, non-coded DNA was believed to be unimportant biologically; since then, scientists have realized that "junk-DNA" plays a crucial role in switching particular genes on and off. So far, Genetic Technologies has sued three biotech companies researching genetic-related diseases for allegedly infringing patents on junk DNA.

Worst National (and International) Disgrace

The United States of America

For promoting the commercial exploitation of biodiversity in its National Parks and for championing the patenting of all biological products and processes (related to plants, animals, microorganisms, and human DNA). Special recognition goes to the US Trade Representative for tirelessly promoting and globalizing intellectual property regimes through the WTO and bilateral agreements, and to the US Patent & Trademark Office, which has taken more than three years to re-examine and issue a final ruling on US Patent No. 5,894,079 on a yellow bean of Mexican origin.

Worst Threat to Human Diversity

The HapMap Project

For resurrecting the discredited Human Genome Diversity Project under a new name. The $100 million, three-year International HapMap Project is intended to identify blocks of variation in the human genome that are unique to distinct populations (the variant blocks are called haplotypes). These genetic variations are believed to determine how people differ in their risk of disease or their response to drugs. The Project is funded by both the public and private sector and, at present, involves DNA samples from the Yoruba people in Ibadan, Nigeria, Japanese in Tokyo, Han Chinese in Beijing and US residents with ancestry from northern and western Europe and Mexico. Mexico recently agreed to become a partner in the HapMap project. If the HapMap Project succeeds in mapping the world's genetic variance by population, it will be a major boon to the pharmaceutical industry. Drugs previously shelved due to risk of allergic reactions could be resuscitated. "Personalized medicine" - for those affluent enough to pay for it, of course - will bring tremendous profits to drug and genomics companies. Even though the born-again HapMap Project pledges to get it right this time, serious ethical issues remain concerning intellectual property, genetic discrimination, informed consent, the threat to privacy, and even the possibility of genetically-targeted bioterrorism.

Worst Corporate Offender


For its European patent on soft-milling, low-gluten wheat that is derived from a traditional Indian wheat variety. Monsanto's patent (European Patent No. EP0445929B1) claims not only the low-gluten wheat, but also the flour, dough and edible products (biscuits, cake, etc.) produced from it! Greenpeace, the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology and the Indian farmers' organization, Bharat Krishak Samaj (BKS), are opposing Monsanto's patent at the European Patent Office.

Worst International Convention

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

The World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), based in Geneva, was established in 1974 and is responsible for the promotion and protection of intellectual property throughout the world. WIPO takes the prize for "Worst International Convention" for two initiatives. First, for proposing a new global patent system under the "Substantive Patent Law Treaty," which would override national patent laws and development strategies, in order to pave the way for a "world patent" granted directly by WIPO, facilitating one-stop shopping for exclusive monopolies. And for promoting the idea that traditional knowledge can be "protected" in the context of intellectual property. WIPO has been promoting intellectual property as a solution to protecting indigenous peoples and their heritage, of which traditional knowledge is an indivisible part. WIPO has failed to acknowledge that intellectual property rights are incompatible with the protection of traditional knowledge, being the source of the problem, not the solution.

Worst Smokescreen - Joint Winner

AMMA Corporation, Calgary, Canada

For seeking to patent a treatment for Hepatitis C based on traditional plant medicines of the Peruvian Amazon and the traditional knowledge of the Suni-Mirano people. Although the company website boasts of a benefit-sharing agreement with a Peruvian consultant and the establishment of a biosphere preserve to preserve the rainforest and its inhabitants, the Suni-Mirano people have not been acknowledged and consulted, nor are they direct beneficiaries.

Worst Smokescreen - Joint Winner

CBD's Bonn Guidelines on Access and Benefit-Sharing

For creating the illusion that equitable benefit-sharing is being addressed while facilitating biopiracy and promoting intellectual property. "Capacity building" proposals for indigenous peoples would enable them to become partners in the piracy of their own resources.

Worst Smokescreen - Runner-Up

The Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries Initiative

For establishing a "biodiversity cartel" among 15 countries in the South to facilitate the sale of biological resources to the highest bidder and thus legitimize biopiracy. The "Cancun Declaration of Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries" is an initiative of the same ilk as the CBD's Bonn Guidelines. It is often misinterpreted as a pro-South initiative that will conserve and utilize biodiversity and stop biopiracy. Unfortunately, the Mexican-led initiative - which covers 70% of the world's biodiversity, according to the Declaration - does not defend the interests of the participating countries' own populations or indigenous peoples or local communities. Instead of recognizing the interdependency of cultural and biological diversity and seeking to protect them, the Group of Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries aims to sell off biological resources to the highest bidder. According to the Cancun Declaration, the participating nations seek to introduce and/or harmonize intellectual property systems and increase the use of biotechnology as a means of conserving diversity, which works to facilitate (legalize) biopiracy rather than to stop it.

Worst Nanopiracy

Yang Mengjun (China)

For securing 466 patents on nanoscale versions of traditional Chinese medicinal herbs by simply turning traditional plants into fine powders with particles under 100 nanometres (one nanometre = one-billionth of a metre) and claiming a new invention with increased solubility and bioavailability. Mr. Yang has secured monopoly patents on barks, roots, fruit, and leaves that have been used in Chinese medicine since ancient times. Mr. Yang has secured monopoly patents on barks, roots, fruit, and leaves that have been used in Chinese medicine since ancient times. Mr. Yang appears to be the largest single holder of nanopatents in the world. A new way to monopolize traditional knowledge!

Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of matter at the level of atoms and molecules, the building blocks of the entire natural world, offering new opportunities for monopoly control - not just over life forms - but over nature itself. With the rise of nanoscale technology we are seeing far-reaching patent claims not just on DNA, but on the atoms and molecules that make up DNA.

Worst Nanopiracy - Runner-Up

Pacific Corporation (Korea)

For securing European, US and Japanese patents on Red Ginseng in nanoscale form for use in cosmetic products. Pacific corporation has reduced Red Ginseng to a nano-emulsion of small particles between 50-500nm that can pass across the skin and exert an anti-aging effect. Pacific corporation is now claiming intellectual molecular monopoly over an herb that has been cultivated and used medicinally since ancient times.

Most Offensive Act of Cultural Piracy

Winner: IMPI, Mexican Institute of Industrial Property

For allowing a trademark on the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 2002. For 2,400 Mexican pesos, IMPI granted the exclusive right to use the image of the Virgin on a Chinese company's products (toys, games, and Christmas tree ornaments) for 10 years, along with licensing rights and an option to renew the trademark. The Virgin of Guadalupe is Mexico's most beloved patron saint, and for many indigenous cultures in Mexico she is equated with Tonantzin - the goddess of fertility and Mother Earth.
Earlier this year, the Basilica of Guadalupe drafted a much more lucrative deal that would have given Viotran, LLC a trademark on the image of the Virgin. Viotran was willing to pay $12.5 million dollars for exclusive rights to the Virgin's image, but the deal fell through amidst an uproar by Mexican Catholics.