New Delhi: Plant varieties and seeds cannot be patented under Indian law by companies like Monsanto Inc., and any royalties on genetically modified (GM) technology will be decided by a specialized agency of the agriculture ministry, the Delhi high court ruled on Wednesday.
As a result, the patent held by Monsanto, through its Indian arm Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech Ltd (MMBL) over its Bollgard-II Bt cotton seed technology, a genetically modified variant which resists the bollworm pest, was decreed to be unenforceable in India.
The division bench of justices Ravindra Bhat and Yogesh Khanna, however, permitted MMBL to approach the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPVFRA) under the agriculture ministry for registering the variety within three months, following which the authority will decide on a benefit-sharing mechanism. Currently, trait fees on Bt cotton seeds are decided by a price control committee under the agriculture ministry.
The Court directed Monsanto to continue with its obligations under the sub-license agreements and allowed “the suit to proceed with respect to the claim for damages and other reliefs", in the light of the sub-license termination notices issued by Monsanto."
The court’s order came in a case filed in 2015 by Monsanto, through MMBL, against Nuziveedu Seeds and its subsidiaries for selling Bt cotton seeds using its patented technology despite termination of a licence agreement in November 2015. The order and the court’s interpretation of section 3(j) of the Patents Act, 1970, may prove to be an impediment for entry of new technology in Indian agriculture as technology developers will lose pricing freedom.
Responding to the high court order, Kalyan Goswami, director general of the National Seed Association of India, said, “It is a landmark judgement... which brings cheer to millions of Indian farmers. They can’t be exploited by technology developers any further by charging exorbitantly high trait value through claiming false patent rights."