Patents and seed industry
Indian IP laws, which are TRIPS compliant, make it clear that seeds and plants or parts thereof cannot be patented. Therefore, the article, “The battle over Bt cotton” (Oct.4), is misleading. This provision is a result of India opting to provide sui genesis legislation that provides intellectual property protection for plant varieties including transgenic varieties under a separate and specialised law known as the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPVFR) Act, 2001. Monsanto’s patents on Bt cotton genes and methods of transformation of cotton do not have any claims directed on seeds, plants or parts thereof. Had the writer examined the claims made by Monsanto while seeking the registration of patents under the Patent Cooperation Treaty in India from the Controller of Patents, Patents Office, Chennai, he would have found a rejection of most claims whenever there is a mention of plants, seeds or plant tissues.
When the government enacted the Cotton Seeds Price (Control) Order and subsequently notified the “licensing guidelines and formats for GM technology licensing agreements”, Monsanto ran a misinformed campaign that the Agriculture Ministry had wrongly invoked the provisions of compulsory licensing of the Patent Act. Even if the Bollgard-I gene was patented in India like Bollgard-II, Monsanto would not have been able to have any rights on seeds and plant varieties. On the other hand, Section 26 of the PPVFR Act provides a right to them to make a claim before the PPVFR Authority for benefit sharing based on the agronomic value the Bollgard trait confers to various new varieties developed by breeders. It is wrong to apply the provisions of the Patent Act to transgenic varieties. As clarified by the government in the IPR Policy 2016, only the PPVFR Act, 2001 governs IP rights for transgenic varieties.
The National Seed Association of India has asked the Ministry of Agriculture to implement the PPVFR Act without any distortion. If TRIPS- compliant IP laws are implemented, Monsanto will have the right to claim the trait value under Section 26 of the PPVFR Act. However, they will not have the power to unilaterally determine the trait value which they have been doing so since 2002. This can result in a huge drop in their profitability, which has resulted in the campaign.
Breeders have the right to use even a protected variety with a transgenic trait to develop new varieties and commercialise them under Section 30. Farmers have the rights to save, resow, barter or sell without branding the seeds of even a protected transgenic variety. It is important to ensure such a balance as there is a likelihood of several GM traits being approved in all major food crops such as rice, wheat, mustard and corn.
Threats by Monsanto to withdraw from India are not real as even at a Rs.49 trait value per packet, as fixed by the government for 2016, Monsanto makes a revenue of Rs.200 crore on a single GM trait.
M. Prabhakar Rao,
President, National Seed Association of India,