Intellectual Property Protection for Plant Varieties – An Indian Perspective
Dr Elizabeth Varkey - IP Lawyer & Advocate in the High Court of Kerala, India
ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum
ESRC Genomics Policy and Research ForumThe University of EdinburghSt John's Land Holyrood Road Edinburgh EH8 8AQ
Major changes in agriculture have for the first time led to the grant of intellectual property protection to plants. Biotechnology has paved the way for new vistas in engineering improved varieties of plants. This has led to a need for adequate legal protection for the developers of new varieties of plants. The TRIPS Agreement requires Members to grant either a patent or a sui generis protection for plant varieties. The protection that is accorded in developed countries was not considered to be in the interests of a developing country like India, which is primarily an agrarian economy; hence India opted for sui generis legislation. Primary breeders in India are farmers; consequently it was necessary to protect farmers’ interests. The Indian situation thus demanded a balance between the rights of the farming community and those of breeders. The enactment of the Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act saw brought an end to the heated debates over protecting the interests of the farmers along side that of the breeders by including farmers’ rights within its sweep. The concept of farmers’ rights is basically contradictory to the principles of intellectual property. The tensions over farmers’ rights, which owe their existence to traditional knowledge, is keenly felt at those points where they intersect with the interests of the breeders, particularly where breeders seek to monopolize that which they appropriate from the farmers. Despite these tensions, the two groups have much in common in terms of their objectives. This paper seeks to address the concerns of the farmers in the broader context of intellectual property protection for breeders of plant varieties, to understand how their rights can be accommodated within the existing legal framework, and examine whether there is need for a global resolution of the problem.