Farmers in a fizz as PepsiCo files suit over potato IPR violation
PepsiCo alleges infringement of intellectual property rights by Gujarat farmers
A full-blown fight has broken out potato farmers in Gujarat and multinational food giant PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt Ltd (PIH). The issue: alleged infringement of intellectual property rights (IPR) of a plant variety registered under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001.
A group of farmer organisations and civil society representatives upped the ante against PepsiCo India after the MNC filed lawsuits against four potato growers from Sabarkantha district for allegedly growing a variety of potato — FL 2027, also called FC5 — on which PepsiCo claimed exclusive rights by virtue of a Plant Variety Certificate (PVC) under the Act.
Earlier this month, the four farmers — with a land holding of 3-4 acres — were slapped with a lawsuit of ₹1 crore each for an “estimated damage” to PepsiCo arising from the alleged infringement of its IPR for the potato variety that it uses for its popular Lay’s chips. The cases were filed in the Commercial Court at the City Civil Court here, and the next hearing is scheduled for April 26.
Terming the MNC’s move a violation of farmers’ rights as protected under the same PPV&FR Act, farmers groups including the RSS-affiliate Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), Gujarat Khedut Samaj, Jatan trust accompanied by civil society representatives demanded immediate intervention of the Central and State governments to protect farmers’ rights as already enshrined in the law.
“The PepsiCo’s claims are untenable. This is an attempt to intimidate farmers and wipe out competition in the chips market. We demand that the company immediately and unconditionally withdraw all the cases that it initiated in various courts against farmers,” said Ambubhai Patel, National Vice-President, BKS. Patel also alleged that PepsiCo had wrongfully used private detective agencies to entrap farmers by creating secret video to implicate them.
When approached for a comment, J. Sagar Associates — the lawyers of PepsiCo India — declined to comment on the matter as they are representing the company (in the case).
PepsiCo had alleged that farmers were illegally growing, producing, selling without permission the said variety in violation of Sections 64 and 65, of the said Act.
Stay on farmers
Considering the documents submitted by the company including the plant variety certificate (PVC), the Commercial Court had last week stayed the farmers from growing and selling the potatoes till April 26 and sought replies from them on the allegations levelled by the company.
However, the Court has observed that “At this stage, it appears the the Plaintiff (PepsiCo) has prima facie case in its favour” and admitted the company’s claim that if the farmers are not temporarily stayed from growing and selling these potatoes, it would suffer “irreparable loss and it would defeat the justice.”
On company’s request, the court also appointed a Court Commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the dispute, prepare inventory of potato, take samples and send it to government laboratories and the Potato Research Centre at Shimla for analysis. However, the company had already conducted analysis on the samples collected on its own and found that farmers were growing the registered variety.
However, Kapil Shah of Jatan, Vadodara added, “India had designed a sui generis law in compliance with the WTO’s TRIPS Agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), which is the PPV&FR Act, 2001. Under this statute, farmers’ apriori rights with regard to seeds and planting material have been clearly protected under Section 39 of the said Act.”