The technical developments in today’s world are taking place at an immense pace. Biotechnology is one of those technical developments which is highly under the limelight. Basically, Biotechnology is an idea of technology based on the use of other living things. The subject matters of the biotechnology include hybrid plants, gene therapy, genetically engineered animals and vaccines, etc. There have been numerous innovations and inventions regarding biological resources and this is where the law of Intellectual Property Rights comes into the picture. With the increase of innovations in the field of Biotechnology comes patent claims over those innovations. This led to the situation where law and the legal system of a country have to decide whether giving patent right over innovation is necessary or not.
There have been numerous discussions over the same and it seems like the world is divided into two ideas over this. One part contends that the patent right is necessary for encouragement of innovators while the other part thinks that this is against the public good. This question of property rights over the biodiversity has been a long-standing concern in the International Law. When talking about this issue, the main conflict is between the sovereignty of the State and individuals’ personal rights. But we all can see that there is a shifting of the State’s role due to the consequential shift in the economic pattern of the world. If we talk about the Indian government’s perspective, it tries to dismantle the state-controlled market and state-regulated economy and tends to promote the ideas of liberalization, privatization, and globalization. And this shift in the ideology also has a great impact on the IPR policy in India. The major problem that Farmers have to face because of globalization, is the insecurity in the face of monopolization of the seed supply by the MNCs. This problem gives rise to new challenges in agrarian relations. An attempt has been made through this article to address the problems of the Farmers on this issue.
Pepsi Co. v/s Farmers
The most recent lawsuit regarding this issue is when food & beverages giant PepsiCo filed a lawsuit of 1 Cr. against 11 farmers of Gujarat in 2018. They have sought relief for infringement of their Patent rights over cultivating a specific type of potatoes. Although, PepsiCo after consulting with government withdrew the case against the farmers but they have sparked the discussions on Patent rights over Plant cultivation.
The basic question over the biological resources is that who have the rights over that? On one hand, some of the thinkers believe that there exists the permanent sovereignty of the State over the natural resources. On the other hands, the other school of thought believes that there is the existence of intellectual property rights over the biodiversity which will not only encourage the invention and innovation in society but will also open significant new economic opportunities.
The legislation on this issue i.e. Protection of Plant Variety & Farmer’s Rights (PVPFR) Act, 2001 is more or less provides farmers with an edge over the Patent holder. As per section 39(1)(iv) of the Act, a farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow re-sow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act. By virtue of the non-obstante clause, this provision is over and above all other provisions of the Act. But the proviso to this clause put a ban on farmers to sell the branded IPR protected seeds i.e. seeds which are packaged and labelled that such seed is of a variety protected under this Act.
But in this case, no such labelling was there as the farmers claimed that they have bought the seeds either from a local market or they have reused the seeds from the previous crops.
However, PepsiCo has now come into a settlement with the farmers for contract farming. This gave the farmers not only access to higher yields but also better prices for their potatoes.
The silent closure of this case has opened a roaring question of law. This was not the case of settlement between farmers and the giant company, this was just buying of farmers by the giant company. Although, PVPFR Act is more or less farmer-friendly but isn’t this closing the gates for their innovations in Biodiversity. This is why the idea of preventing others from using your ideas and inventions over the biodiversity got more criticism than appreciations. This is because of the fact that those inventions can be useful for the greater good of society and restraining those innovations to oneself will restrain the society at large to prosper. There is a never-ending tension between the rights of the inventor over his innovation and the opportunity of bringing that invention to the market place and conceptualize the invention as a ‘public good’.
Prem Kumar Agarwal, Intellectual Property Rights Of Farmers (1 Ed. 2011). Pepsico India Holdings Pvt Ltd Versus M/S Prabhudas Patel & Others Civil Suit No. 7 Of 2018 B.S. Chimni, ‘the Philosophy of Patents: Strong Regime Unjustified’, Journal for Scientific and Industrial Research. Volume 52, 1993, pp. 234-39.Iver, P. Cooper, Biotechnology and the Law, Volume 1, p. 1.1, Pubwest Group.
Anmol SyanCo-founder, writer
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