PepsiCo Withdraws Cases Against Potato Farmers – A Missed Opportunity

New potato isolated on white background close up

PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt. Ltd. (“PepsiCo”) had filed cases against several farmers and business entities alleging infringement of its IP in potato plant variety FL 2027. PepsiCo has now withdrawn cases filed against farmers, in view of what appears to be under political pressure. Although withdrawal of cases may have provided short-term relief to the farmers, a long-term solution in favour of farmers may have been achieved had the cases been pursued.

To provide a bit of background, PepsiCo has protected its potato plant variety FL 2027 under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Authority (PPV&FR) Act, 2001. PepsiCo sought permanent injunction restraining the farmers from using FL 2027. The PPV&FR Act defines what constitutes infringement U/S 64 (reproduced below, with emphasis added). A breeder of a variety registered may allege infringement if any entity carries out acts that fall within the scope of Section 64.

64. Infringement.—Subject to the provisions of this Act, a right established under this Act is infringed by a person—

(a) who, not being the breeder of a variety registered under this Act or a registered agent or a registered licensee of that variety, sells, exports, imports or produces such variety without the permission of its breeder or within the scope of a registered licence or registered agency without permission of the registered licensee or registered agent, as the case may be;

(b) who uses, sells, exports, imports or produces any other variety giving such variety, the denomination identical with or deceptively similar to the denomination of a variety registered under this Act in such manner as to cause confusion in the mind of general people in identifying such variety so registered.

While Section 64 defines infringement, Section 39 protects various interests of farmers. Particularly, Section 39(1)(IV) (reproduced below, with emphasis added) entitles farmers to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under the Act in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of the Act. Exception being, farmers are not entitled to sell branded seed of a variety protected under the Act.

39. Farmers’ right.—

(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act,—

(iv) a farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this Act: Provided that the farmer shall not be entitled to sell branded seed of a variety protected under this Act. Explanation.—For the purposes of clause (iv), “branded seed” means any seed put in a package or any other container and labelled in a manner indicating that such seed is of a variety protected under this Act. 

Notably, provisions of Sections 64 are “subject to the provisions of this Act”, whereas rights under Section 39 are “notwithstanding anything contained in this Act”. Therefore, the entitlement of farmers under Section 39 can be argued to triumph over the provisions of Sections 64. Consequently, it appears that an IP owner of a registered variety cannot stop farmers from saving, using, sowing, resowing, exchanging, sharing or selling (not as branded seed of a variety protected) his farm produce including seed of the protected variety. Given the forgoing observations, as mentioned earlier, a long-term solution in favour of farmers may have been achieved had PepsiCo continued to pursue cases against the farmers.

We hope this article was a useful read. 

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Best regards – Team InvnTree   

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

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