Last updated: 2.11.2022
Biotechnology (biotech) is the use of biological processes, organisms or systems to manufacture products intended to improve the quality of human life or modernise industry. These products contribute to sustainable development, public health and environmental protection.
Humans have been harnessing biology for thousands of years to make food such as bread and cheese, and medical products derived from plants, fungi or honey. Some of the earliest biotechnologists were farmers who domesticated plants and animals and developed improved species by cross-breeding. Inventors have been filing applications for biotech patents for over 200 years. Patent No. GB 178701625, granted in the United Kingdom in 1787, claimed a yeast-like composition to be used for baking, prepared from mashed potatoes. On 29 July 1873, microbiologist Louis Pasteur patented his improved yeast-making method at the French Patent Office.
In recent decades, technical advances have made biotechnology a major field with an impact on all aspects of life. It has become an important industry for the European economy and society, providing employment and growth and countless useful products and applications.
Biotechnology is most well known and is primarily used in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, an area known as "red biotechnology". It is also used in industrial processes and manufacturing ("white biotechnology") and to a small but equally important extent in agriculture and livestock management ("green biotechnology").
Biotechnology makes multiple contributions to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals and to the European Green Deal objectives. It promises the development of sustainable agriculture, reducing the need for pesticides and fertilisers, and of more nutritional food that does not depend on animal farming. It reduces the need for antibiotics in humans and animals, contributes to the conservation of animal and plant diversity and provides new medical treatments, in particular for diseases common in low-income or developing countries. It also provides new, clean energy sources that are affordable and help lessen the impact of climate change. In sum, biotechnology promotes economic growth, reduces inequalities, ensures healthy lives and supports sustainable communities.
Red, white or green
Biotech has important applications in medicine, industry and agriculture.
What is patentable?
Biotech inventions are subject to the normal rules on patentability, and in some cases pose particular issues in relation to ethics and the patenting of plants and animals.
The EPO’s role
The EPO examines patent applications in accordance with the EPC, which includes the rules of the EU Biopatent Directive. It also co-operates with the EU’s Community Plant Variety Office.
The EPO’s annual European Inventor Award has featured many brilliant scientists working in all fields of biotech. Let their stories inspire you.
Disclaimer: The content of this site is for general information only. No rights can be derived from it. The sole legal basis for the examination of European patent applications and European patents remains the European Patent Convention as well as any provisions applicable thereunder.