Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers’ IP Rights in India

Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers’ IP Rights in India

March 29, 2024 By Shruti Nair

India is known as an agrarian country, where farming is not just a medium of earning but a way of life, the innovation, preservation and advancement of plant varieties are crucial for sustainable agriculture and food security. At the intersection of agricultural innovation and intellectual property rights (IPRs) lies the system of Plant Varieties Protection or Protection of Plant Varieties (PVP/PPV) and Farmers' Intellectual Property Rights, a framework designed to motivate innovation while safeguarding the interests of farmers.

In this blog, we explore the nuances of PVP/PPV and Farmers' Intellectual Property Rights (FR) in India, shedding light on their significance, challenges, and potential for promoting agricultural diversity and farmer welfare.

Plant Varieties Protection:

Plant Varieties Protection (PVP) or Protection of Plant Varieties (PPV) is a form of intellectual property right granted to breeders for new plant varieties. In India, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights (PPV & FR) Act, 2001, governs PVP, providing breeders with exclusive rights over the propagation, production, and sale of the protected varieties. To qualify for protection, a plant variety must be novel, distinct, uniform, and stable (DUS criteria), demonstrating its uniqueness and commercial potential.

Farmers' Intellectual Property Rights:

Embedded within the PPV & FR Act is the concept of Farmers' Intellectual Property Rights (FR), which recognize and protect the contributions of farmers to the conservation and enhancement of plant genetic resources. FR encompass rights such as the saving, using, exchanging, and selling of farm-saved seeds, ensuring that farmers retain control over their traditional knowledge and practices.

Objectives of PVP/PPV & FR Act:

1. To establish a robust system for safeguarding plant varieties while ensuring the rights of both farmers and plant breeders. This approach aims to foster the development of new plant varieties.

2. Recognizing and safeguarding farmers' rights in conserving, enhancing, and sharing plant genetic resources is essential for the development of new plant varieties.

3. To accelerate agricultural progress, safeguard plant breeders' rights, and encourage investment in research and development in both public and private sectors to innovate new plant varieties.

4. Efforts are underway to facilitate the expansion of the seed industry, thereby ensuring farmers have access to high-quality seeds and planting materials for improved crop yields.

Under the PPVFR Act, 2001, there are four categories of plant varieties eligible for registration:

New varieties:

The varieties that haven't been in the public domain in India for at least one year before the filing date. For trees or vines, this duration extends to six years outside India, and for other cases, it's earlier than four years.

Extant varieties:

These include varieties notified under the Seed Act, 1966, or those widely known to farmers or the public. They can also encompass farmer's varieties or any other varieties accessible to the public.

Farmer's varieties:

These are varieties traditionally cultivated and evolved by farmers over time. Additionally, wild relatives or landraces with common knowledge among farmers are considered farmer's varieties.

Essentially derived varieties (EDVs):

An EDV is mainly derived from another variety, retaining its essential characteristics. It doesn't significantly differ from the original variety, except for minor, non-cosmetic features.

Significance of PVP/PPV and FR in India

Promoting Agricultural Innovation:

PVP incentivizes breeders to invest in research and development, leading to the creation of improved plant varieties with desirable traits such as higher yield, disease resistance, and drought tolerance. This fosters agricultural innovation and enhances the productivity and resilience of farming systems.

Safeguarding Farmers' Rights:

FR empower farmers, especially those engaged in traditional and subsistence agriculture, by preserving their autonomy and sovereignty over seeds. By allowing farmers to save, exchange, and sell farm-saved seeds, FR uphold the principles of food sovereignty and ensure access to diverse genetic resources.

Preserving Agricultural Biodiversity:

The PVP & FR Act encourages the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources by promoting the registration and protection of traditional varieties and farmers' varieties. This contributes to the preservation of agricultural biodiversity, which is essential for adapting to environmental changes and addressing future food security challenges.

Challenges and Controversies

Despite the noble intentions underlying PVP and FR, their implementation has been fraught with challenges and controversies. One of the primary concerns is the tension between breeders' rights and farmers' rights, particularly regarding the commercialization of protected varieties and the access to seeds for small-scale farmers.

Access to Seeds:

The dominance of commercial seed companies and the proliferation of hybrid and genetically modified varieties have raised concerns about the erosion of traditional seed systems and farmers' access to diverse genetic resources. This threatens the agro-ecological diversity essential for sustainable agriculture and undermines the resilience of farming communities.

Biopiracy and Genetic Resource Management:

The issue of biopiracy, wherein indigenous knowledge and genetic resources are exploited without adequate benefit-sharing, remains a significant challenge. Effective management of genetic resources and equitable sharing of benefits are essential to prevent the misappropriation of traditional knowledge and ensure the fair and just distribution of benefits among stakeholders.

Towards a Sustainable Future

Addressing the challenges associated with PVP and FR requires a multi-faceted approach that balances the interests of breeders, farmers, and society at large. Policy interventions aimed at promoting seed sovereignty, enhancing farmers' access to diverse genetic resources, and strengthening community-based seed systems are critical for fostering agricultural sustainability and social justice.

In conclusion, the nexus of Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers' Intellectual Property Rights in India holds immense potential for driving agricultural innovation, preserving biodiversity, and empowering farming communities. By striking a delicate balance between breeders' rights and farmers' rights, policymakers can create an enabling environment that fosters collaboration, innovation, and inclusive growth across the agricultural value chain. As India navigates the complexities of modern agriculture and strives towards a more sustainable and equitable future, the recognition and protection of plant varieties and farmers' rights stand as pillars of progress, ensuring that the seeds of innovation and tradition continue to flourish for generations to come.

Seek the expertise of Parker and Parker Co LLP, If your quest to know more about Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers' Intellectual Property Rights is not quenched. Parker and Parker Co LLP is an IP Law Firm with expertise in Intellectual Property Services.

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