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How WoRMS and OBIS guided BASF as a lighthouse

For patent applications and legal issues, it is important for BASF to collect and analyse biodiversity data: where exactly do organisms live, in which environment do they mainly live, what is their genetic code, ...? That is why they called on the expertise of WoRMS and OBIS.

Keywords: WoRMS, OBIS, BASF

“The World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) and the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS) guided the company like a lighthouse”.

Oliver Oswald – BASF SE

BASF SE is a German multinational chemical company and one of the biggest chemical producer in the world.


What does a company do when it does matter where in the ocean samples of marine species for research originated from? And the company does not have a fleet of ships nor does it fund any ocean expeditions and the only surfing it does is on the worldwide web to access public databases for information that has existed for years or decades. The answer: reel in the data management crews at the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS) and the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS).

Historically, it was not mandatory to include in public databases information on the exact geographical origin of marine species samples. Many submitters to databases did not have or enter such information. And samples were collected without access to GPS on a smartphone to log the exact position. Today, however, information on where an organism was collected is of great importance for those familiar with the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing, and for the discussions on using such digital database entries. To support the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity such as the sustainable use of marine resources and biodiversity, now it does matter if the species are endemic to the shores of a certain country, found in coastal areas only but not the high seas, or found only in the high seas. Very different rules and regulations may apply, for example, to a fish depending on where it was caught. It is also helpful to know if that fish is found exclusively in certain areas, and not in others.

With the ability to capture live marine traffic information and overlay it with the marine regions1 or tracking of fish movements in rivers and the sea2, there is, of course, more and better information available for recent and future samples. OBIS includes this geographical information as much as possible in a very user friendly and graphical manner. But its strength is more than being able to map GPS locations, it is the know-how and inside knowledge of marine ecosystems, taxa of flora and fauna of the expert crew at OBIS.




Used components of the LifeWatch Infrastructure

During BASF’s information quest, the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) and the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS) guided the company like a lighthouse. WoRMS is hosted by the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) and is the taxonomic backbone of OBIS, hosted at the International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.

WoRMS contains a tremendous amount of information on more than 400.000 named species, including general information on the environment (marine, brackish, fresh, terrestrial) in which they occur and – although incomplete – general distribution information. The availability of all WoRMS content is made possible through the voluntary expert contributions by more than 300 editors. Utilizing the expertise and skill of the WoRMS Data Management Team, its editor network and the OBIS Data Management Team is essential to navigate around datasets that seem bottomless at first. Only in discussion and interaction with them can one avoid sorting out entries wrongfully expected not to be marine, or falsely including entries that are freshwater or even terrestrial. There are also examples when an animal living in the sea has the same species name as a different animal living on land. Both WoRMS and OBIS are interlinked in the LifeWatch Species Information Backbone, and services on both systems are available in the LifeWatch virtual lab for biodiversity research.



Use by BASF

Fortunately for BASF, the company benefitted from the vast expertise of the WoRMS network. The WoRMS team also benefitted as interactions with industry enable it to learn about user needs and pitfalls for less experienced users. In BASF’s case, questions were answered whether electronic information such as genetic sequence information used in patent applications and originally from public databases was linked to species from extraterritorial waters or more likely from sea areas closer to or at shore – to the extent possible given the long period of time passed since the samples of marine species were collected in some cases. Having this exact picture is highly important for many stakeholders involved in interactions linking research and policy making.

With the help of OBIS and WoRMS, BASF could also demonstrate that public statements by certain groups based on occurrence of digital sequences in patent publications were premature and sometimes incorrect when expertise from all trades, patent and intellectual property as well as marine organism experts like the WoRMS crew were considered. These results were shared by BASF in several fora including those with policy makers.




Dr. Oliver Oswald
Senior Counsel Intellectual Property & European Patent Attorney


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