Friday, December 4, 2015

Protecting Plant Varieties

Plant variety rights are a form of intellectual property protection granted to breeders of new varieties of plants. In a very general sense, a plant variety is a strain of a plant (or, more often, a crop) that is a pure breed. In other words, for a plant variety to be protected, it must produce the same type of plant in every generation, and should be distinct in appearance and distinguishable from others. Plant variety rights include, inter alia, royalty rights over a certain identified time period and restrictions on the propagation and subsequent use of seeds derived from such varieties.
The protection of plant varieties around the world is guided by Article 27(3)(b) of the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs). The Article mandates states to protect plant varieties, while allowing them the flexibility to choose between a pure patent system, a unique protection system of its own kind (sui generis), or a combination of the two.
Given the TRIPs requirement, India designed a sui generis legislation entitled the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001. The PPV&FR Authority was created under the aegis of this Act, as the implementing authority in this legislation, with central operations in Delhi, and expansion proposals on the table.
However, while the number of applications is fairly large, it is important to note that not all of them are not in acceptable format. For example, there are applications which are not accompanied by seed, which is required by law in some categories, which have been automatically treated as ‘dropouts’.
The largest number of applications have been for ‘extant varieties, which under the Act, may be of four types, namely:
  •       those varieties that are already notified under the Seed Act, 1966;
  •     Farmers’ Variety (FV) – The definition of ‘farmers’ variety’ is contentious and still in process. According to the Chairperson, there lies here a potential project for institutions to document FVs, especially rice, which is an Indian variety and under threat from MNCs;
  •       ‘Variety of Common Knowledge’, which are protected under the PPVF&R Act; or
  •         any other variety which is in the public domain.
The Authority also publishes the monthly Plant Variety Journal of India which serves as the Gazette for this Act. There is the stipulated 90 days opposition period for applications received, after which the process of registration may begin, and involves the submission of a fee and seed samples for the Gene Bank.