Botanical sources the root of over a third of cosmetics-related patents

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Patent

Cosmetics and fragrance innovation relies heavily on botanical sources with over a third of patents related to plant-based resources, according to a recent report.

The research, commissioned by the Union for Ethical Biotrade, claims that natural ingredients and extracts from all sources (including minerals) account for 49 percent of all patent activity in the cosmetics and fragrance sectors, with plant sources accounting for 34 percent.

According to the report, these figures demonstrate the importance of patent activity originating from biodiversity within the sectors.

L'Oreal, as the world's largest cosmetics company, has the highest volume of patent activity relating to natural ingredients and extracts, including both applications and grants, with a total of 4561 applications and 1764 grants.

Procter and Gamble follows in second place with 3054 applications and 1441 grants, with Kao Corporation in third place with 1662 applications and 590 grants.

In addition to demonstrating the importance of biodiversity-related resources to cosmetics and fragrance patents, the report also claims the high level of biodiversity related patents highlights the need for the sector to consider the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) provisions on the rights of indigenous communities.

CBD requirements

According to the CBD, which recognises the sovereign rights of states over their biological resources, patents should not run 'counter to the objectives' of the CBD. In other words, patents should not contradict the principles of prior informed consent and equitable benefit sharing as determined by the CBD.

Creating a joint patent is one example of how a patent could be developed to respect the principles of the CBD, according to senior advisor on access and benefit sharing with the Union for Ethical Biotrade, Maria Julia Oliva.

"Generally, in terms of what can contribute to a more mutually supportive relationship between patents and biodiversity, it is worth noting that two sets of actions need to be taken into account by companies working with biodiversity,"​ she told USA.

"First, there needs to be compliance with ABS [access and benefit sharing] principles and rules. Second, there is the need for all company policies and practices, including in relation to patents, to support these principles and rules,"​ she explained.

Economic value of patents questioned

Although the patent activity, both related to natural and non-natural sources, has undoubtedly accelerated over recent years in the sector, the report claims that the extent of the benefits derived from them is unclear; the fact that a patent has been granted gives no indication of the actual economic value gained from the patented ingredient or method.

In addition, the report notes the proliferation, as in many other sectors, of defensive patenting - patenting with a view to preventing further research in a particular field by a competitors rather than with the direct aim of exploiting the patented product.

Although such a practice is unlikely to affect traditional use of an ingredient or method, it could halt further research and development that could ultimately lead to revenue for an indigenous community.

"From a CBD perspective, defensive patents raise concerns because they, rather than result in new products and benefits to be shared, may in fact be blocking the development of new products linked to biodiversity,"​ Oliva said.

Oliva noted a number of actions occurring in other industries, in particular information technology, that aim to limit the extent of defensive patenting. Although such initiatives are not playing a major role in the cosmetics sector, she did say that patent oppositions, so challenging the validity of patents, is quite high in the industry.

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