Agri-biotechnologyAgriculture Policy

NSAI Seeking to Steal Patented Traits, Breach Contracts, says ABLE-AG

Paresh Vema, Head of ABLE-Ag's Management Committee. Photo by Vivian Fernandes

The Association of Biotech-Led Enterprises (Agriculture Focus Group) or ABLE-AG says the National Seed Association of India (NSAI) is creating confusion about protections available under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFRA) and Indian Patent Act (IPA) to innovations in agriculture. It charges NSAI with propagating misleading views ‘at the behest of parties that are seeking to misappropriate patented technologies and avoid contractual obligations.’

‘It is important to distinguish the scope and ambit of PPVFRA and IPA. PPVFRA, inter alia, is to accord protection to novel, distinct, useful and stable plant varieties that are developed by a breeder or a farmer using diverse germplasm,’ says Paresh Verma, Head of ABLE-AG’s Management Committee. ‘Nowhere does PPVFRA allude to or aim to cover innovative biotechnology, chemistry or other extraneous methods of crop improvement. In particular, PPVFRA does not apply to innovative biotechnology or the development of new transgenic plants with advantageous features that do not otherwise exist in nature and such inventions are in the domain of IPA’, contends Verma.

In ABLE-AG’s view, PPVFRA, like similar legislation in other countries, permits a breeder to use protected varieties to develop newer ones. This exemption is intended only for research purposes.  It does permit commercial use by seed companies of biotechnologies protected under the Indian Patent Act, as NSAI asserts.

NSAI’s suggestion that a benefit sharing fund can be a mechanism for compensating agri-biotechnology innovators are ‘speculative’ says Shivendra Bajaj, Executive Director, ABLE-AG. ‘This assertion is entirely misleading and corrupts the purpose behind the benefit-sharing provisions in PVPFRA,’ which, he says, is meant to reward communities for conserving biodiversity. ‘To compensate owners of patented technologies through this mechanism is a clear misrepresentation of law,’ he says. NSAI’s aim, according to Bajaj, is to ‘expropriate patented technologies for purely commercial gains’ and not to conduct research with a view to improving them.

ABLE-AG says the patent act recognizes the need to encourage research and innovation in the area of biotechnology and gives protection to novel microbial, recombinant DNA, protein and RNA technologies that are not only applicable in agriculture but also in pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, industrial and environmental applications.

PPVFRA and IPA protect distinct rights and are meant to co-exist, says ABLE-AG. NSAI is challenging this understanding which has prevailed over the past 10 years, it says, to enable the ‘greed of certain seed companies attempting to expropriate intellectual property for crass commercial gains, masquerading as farmers’ interest’.

(Top photo: Paresh Verma, Head of ABLE-AG’s Management Committee.  Photo by Vivian Fernandes)