EU Court of Justice limits absolute product protection for genes

In its decision C428/08 Monsanto Technology LLC vs. Cefetra BV and others, the EU Court of Justice (EuGH) decided on the scope of protection of a patent, EP 456090 B2, protecting i.a. a DNA sequence for an enzyme involved in developing herbicide resistance in plants. The patentee tried to stop importation of soy meal in which the gene was detectable but no longer performed its function of conferring herbicide resistance. Monsanto claimed absolute product protection for the patented DNA sequence, which was undoubtedly and detectably present in the soy meal. In determining the scope of protection, the court considered i.a. the EU Biotech Directive 98/44. The court came to the conclusion that patents for a DNA sequence must be limited to the function/purpose described in the patent. Such a limitation applies to the genetic information as such as well as to the protection of material which contains the genetic information. Contrary to the protection for chemical substances, this decision does not allow absolute product protection for DNA sequences, and limits the scope of protection of a gene patent to the disclosed function/purpose, thus conferring only purpose-limited product protection. This has far-reaching consequences, for instance with regard to the drafting of patent applications and freedom-to-operate analyses.