What is the legal row between farmers and PepsiCo?

Source: The post is based on the article “What is the legal row between farmers and PepsiCo?” published in The Hindu on 12th July 2023

What is the News?

The Delhi High Court has held that there was “no merit” in the appeal filed by PepsiCo over the patent rights for its ‘unique potato’ variety.

What is the case about?

The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights’ Authority (PPVFRA) had revoked PepsiCo’s registration with respect to its potato plant variety, ‘FL 2027’ (used in Lay’s chips).

The rights were revoked on the grounds provided under Section 34 (grounds for revocation of registration) of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001 (PPV&FR). 

Against this judgment, Pepsico went to Delhi High Court.

What is FL 2027?

FL 2027 is a potato variety with high dry matter and low sugar content better suited for making chips.

This variety was developed in 1996 by Robert W Hoopes, a US breeder employed with Frito-Lay Agricultural Research, a division of PepsiCo Inc.

PepsiCo India was granted a certificate of registration for FL 2027 as an “extant variety” on February 1, 2016. 

The validity period – during which nobody else could commercially produce, sell, market, distribute, import or export it without the breeder’s authorisation – was six years from the date of registration and extendable up to 15 years.

What is Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001(PPV&FR)?

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What is Section 34 of the PPV&FR Act?

According to Section 34 of the PPV&FR Act, the protection granted to a breeder may be revoked by the authority on the following grounds: 1) grant of a registration certificate is based on incorrect information furnished by the applicant 2) registration certificate was granted to an ineligible person 3) when the breeder does not provide the registrar with the required documents 4) failure to provide an alternative denomination for variety registration in case the earlier variety provided is not permissible for registration 5) failure of the breeder to provide the required seeds for compulsory license 6) failure to comply with the acts, rules, regulations and directions issued by the Authority and 7) if the grant of the registration certificate is against public interest.

Why did the PPVFRA revoked Pepsico’s patent right over FL 2027?

PepsiCo had sought the registration of FL 2027 variety as a “new variant” instead of an “extant variant” in its application in 2012 despite furnishing the date of its commercialisation in India to be 2009. 

However, to be registered as a “new variant” an additional requirement of ‘novelty’ in addition to ‘distinctiveness’, ‘uniformity’ and ‘stability’ must be satisfied one year before the date of filing of the application for registration. 

The court held that FL 2027 could not fulfill the criteria of novelty and was only eligible for registration under “extant variety”.

Will this ruling impact investor confidence in India’s IP regime for protection of plant varieties and breeder’s rights?

Probably not. The High Court has merely faulted PepsiCo for wrongly applying for registration of FL 2027 under the category of “new variety” and giving an incorrect date for its first commercialisation. 

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