The Thai government has hired two US lawyers to represent the country in a lawsuit aimed at preventing American rice breeder Chris Deren from patenting a new rice variety developed using genetic material from Thai jasmine rice (Khao Dok Mali 105).

Officials from the US are maintaining that the American rice breeders working with Deren have not broken any Thai law in obtaining Thai seeds for their project. The Thai government insists however that Deren stole the seeds.

As the world's top rice-exporter, producing about 3m tonnes of jasmine rice every and 24m tonnes of rice in total every year, many Thai officials fear that Deren will attempt to patent the jasmine-rice name when his project is completed.

Deputy commerce minister Suvarn Valaisathien told The Nation yesterday: "We think it is better to bar him from patenting the new rice variety than seek compensation."

Suvarn revealed that the government was due to sign a contract with the US lawyers this week, with a view to taking the lawsuit to the US Administrative Court.

Deren, a professor at the University of Florida Everglades Research and Education Centre, maintains meanwhile that he has no intention to patent his jasmine rice variety, and that he is merely conducting research into creating a version of the rice that would better suit the US climate.

Jasmine rice is popular because of its flavour and whitenes