The European Commission is taking court action against eight of the 15 European Union (EU) member states for nonimplementation of legislation to allow the patenting of biotechnological inventions.

Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Sweden have been referred to the European Court of Justice for failure to transpose Directive 98/44/EC into national law. The deadline for implementation was almost three years ago on July 30, 2000.

The commission designed the directive "to clarify certain principles of patent law applied to biotechnological inventions whilst ensuring that strict ethical rules are respected." But the legislation has proved controversial because it allows the patenting of processes involving DNA, genetically modified organisms, and materials derived from the human body. This has generated concern that such patenting may become too easy and be used without proper regard to ethical sensitivities. Each of the noncomplying member states has its own specific objections, but...

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