FACTS : PepsiCo, the US-based food and beverages multinational, has sued nine farmers of Gujarat, some of them for Rs 1 crore each, for allegedly violating its intellectual property rights (IPR) in a registered potato variety.
· PepsiCo is the second large U.S. company to face patent infringement issues in India.
· With the long-standing intellectual property dispute, seed maker Monsanto, now owned by German drugmaker Bayer AG, withdrew from some businesses in India over a cotton-seed dispute with farmers.
RELEVANT LAW : The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001, under which PepsiCo’s potato variety was registered in 2016, allows farmers to plant, grow, exchange and sell patent-protected crops, including seeds, and only bars them from selling it as “branded seed".
· PepsiCo has invoked Section 64 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001 to claim infringement of its rights.
· However, farmers groups cite Section 39 of the same Act, which specifically says that a farmer is allowed “to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act” so long as he does not sell “branded seed”.
INDIAN POLICY : India has deliberately chosen a patent law that allows its farmers considerable freedom to use patented varieties. As one researcher described it, the Indian law can be thought of as a patent-lite version, compared to strong IPR laws in the US.
WAY FORWARD : The withdrawal of the lawsuit by PepsiCo may be a welcome relief to several farmers who can neither afford to defend themselves in court, nor to abandon the cultivation of proprietary varieties. It is a wake-up call for government and policymakers to streamline the policies of IPR to balance the interests.
PRACTICE QUESTIONS :
1. Who is a farmer? What is the difference between ‘farmer’s variety’ and ‘registrable variety’ Also, discuss the salient features of Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001. 2. "Seed varieties cannot be patented in India. So no one, Indian or foreign, can patent seeds and control our food supply. The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act allows protection of plant varieties". Explain.
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