A screenshot from the webinar. Photo: ICRISAT, IPFC

The many aspects of commercializing protected plant varieties in India

A screenshot from the webinar. Photo: ICRISAT, IPFC

A screenshot from the webinar. Photo: ICRISAT, IPFC

Agribusiness enterprises were advised to consider the cost of plant variety protection, time taken to obtain it and the capacity for legal and regulatory processes involved before looking at business opportunities with protected plant varieties. This was stressed by scientific, business and legal experts during an informative webinar organized by ICRISAT’s Intellectual Property Facilitation Cell (AIP-IPFC).

Dr Dwarkesh Parihar, Head – Biotechnology, Bioseed Research Pvt Ltd, informed that most number of registrations between 2009 and August 2020 under India’s Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Right Act 2001 (PPV & FR) have been awarded to farmers. Crop-wise, rice has had the most registrations. The PPV & FR Act, enacted in 2001, aims to protect plant varieties, the rights of farmers and plant breeders while encouraging the development and cultivation of new plant varieties in India.

Dr Parihar pointed out that the process of obtaining registration takes much longer than the expected three years. Arguing that the time available for cost and investment recovery is short, he said, “This is an area that needs to be looked at given that commercially successful hybrids have a lifespan of just 4-5 years.”

In addition to suggesting reduction in the duration of the registration process and direct and indirect costs of registration, Dr Parihar recommended the use of technological interventions like modern genomic tools in DUS testing to establish distinctness and uniformity in testing, without diluting standards. At the moment, DUS (Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability) testing relies on phenotypical data, which is affected by agro-climatic conditions. Genomic data is not affected by such conditions, he explained.

Dr Parihar also called for strong enforcement of the law. He cited the need for timely resolution of infringements, strong disincentives for unethical practices and independent investigations of infringements. Such efforts may enhance the confidence in varietal registration.

Dr Neeti Wilson, a lawyer specializing in Intellectual Property management and a partner at the law firm Anand & Anand, underscored that breeders often have concerns of infringement when material they develop goes out in the field. Stressing the importance of approaching the right authority for grievance redressal in case of disputes, she informed of a recent move in India abolishing the Intellectual Property tribunals. IP disputes will now have to be directed to the High Courts, Dr Wilson added. She also advised enterprises and prospective agribusinesses to be mindful of not just the PVP & FRV Act but also of other laws like the Biological Diversity Act.

Speaking about the implications of seeking protection for plant varieties, Dr Wilson said the decision to do so and to select varieties that are to be protected is a business decision as there is significant amount of cost and time involved. She also stressed that the process and documentation related to plant variety registration is techno-legal and there are legalities involved in many aspects of management of IP pertaining to plant varieties. She said that any material that is being transferred between two entities, including digital genetic sequences, should be legally vetted for ownership before transferring.

Dr Surya Mani Tripathi, ICRISAT’s Legal Counsel who moderated the discussion, informed that the evaluation of material transfer agreements is essential and before thinking of commercialization, agribusinesses need to check if the agreements allow it. Some agreements may allow material transfers for research purposes only and in such cases permissions have to be sought for commercialization.

Citing instances, the experts also informed that infringements of rights can happen in multiple ways and that recourse has reputational implications for organization in addition to legal and financial implications.

The session had 102 participants which included plant breeders, scientists, research scholars and other stakeholders from the farming communities. The webinar was held on 8 April 2021 and was the third in a series of webinars on plant variety protection that is being organized by European Business and Technology Centre (EBTC), Anand & Anand and IPFC.

To view recording of the webinar, click here.

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