Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (Pepsico Issue) – UPSC GS3

Context: The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights (PPV&FR) Authority has revoked a PVP (Plant Variety Protection) certificate granted to PepsiCo India Holding (PIH) on a potato variety (FL-2027).
History of Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFRA):
  • The PPVFRA was enacted in 2001 after engaging debates were held in the country on how intellectual property rights should be introduced in Indian agriculture after the country joined the World Trade Organisation in 1995 and agreed to implement the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
  • The choice before India was to either enact a law that protected the interests of farming communities or to accept the framework of plant breeders’ rights given by the International Union for Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV Convention). The latter option was rejected primarily because the current version of UPOV, which was adopted in 1991, denies the farmers the freedom to reuse farm-saved seeds and to exchange them with their neighbours.
  • Therefore, in the PPVFRA, India introduced a chapter on Farmers’ Rights, which has three legs:
    • Farmers are recognised as plant breeders and they can register their varieties;
    • Farmers engaged in the conservation of genetic resources of landraces and wild relatives of economic plants and their improvement through selection and preservation are recognised and rewarded; and,
    • Protecting the traditional practices of the farmers of saving seeds from one harvest and using the saved seeds either for sowing for their next harvest or sharing them with their farm neighbours.
  • PPV&FR is a statutory body set up under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001.
PepsiCo issue:
  • The company applied for the registration of two hybrid potato varieties FL 1867 and FL 2027 in February 2011.
  • These varieties were registered under the PPVFRA in February 2016 for a period of 15 years. PepsiCo marketed the latter variety under the trademark FC-5 and was claiming that the Gujarat farmers were illegally using this variety.
  • However, farmers have cited Section 39 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act,2001 which specifically says that a farmer is allowed to grow and sell any variety of crop or even seed as long as they don’t sell branded seed of registered varieties.
  • Later, Pepsico decided to withdraw lawsuits against the farmers.
  • The PPV&FR authority revoked the certificate on multiple grounds. This included the following:
    • The grant of the certificate of registration had been based on incorrect information furnished by the applicant.
    • The certificate had been granted to a person not eligible for protection.
    • The grant of the certificate of registration was not in the public interest.
Significance of this decision:
The PPV&FR authority revocation of Pepsico patent on grounds of being against public interest sends an important signal that farmers’ rights were not to be taken lightly by IPR-holders in India.
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