Agri Business

Patent protection, a key issue for foreign hybrid seed companies

Tomojit Basu New Delhi | Updated on December 05, 2014

With demand for hybrid seeds growing across the developing world for characteristics ranging from drought- and pest-resistance to higher yield, the protection of technology that goes into making is becoming a key issue for developers, usually large companies such as Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer.

The arrest of a Chinese national by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in July put the spotlight on the issue of smuggling privately-developed ‘inbred’ or parent maize seeds used to selectively breed special traits in hybrid varieties, and intellectual property rights (IPR).

Countries lacking a strong legal framework for IPR protection might see hybrid seed developers avoiding their markets, experts told  BusinessLine on the sidelines of the ‘Conference on innovation in Indian Agriculture’ hosted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) here on Friday.


“Companies will bring hybrids and useful agri-technology provided there’s a legal IPR mechanism as it provides them with an incentive. It would also give local companies more incentive to commit to research to develop such technology. A reason you don’t see many small Indian start-ups in bio-technology is due to no patent process existing in the sphere here till 2005,” said Carl Pray, an agriculture and resource economics expert from Rutgers University.

According to an FBI release dated July 2, Mo Yun and other employees of Dabeinong Technology Group (DBN), a $3-billion agri-company, are reported to have stolen the inbred maize seeds from research farms across rural America since 2007 to smuggle them to China in microwave popcorn boxes and manila envelopes.  If successful, they would have bypassed years of costly research to develop such parent lines.

Small outfits, which usually lack resources to dedicate time for developing inbred lines, license the technology from developers. These are crossbred with other inbreds to create hybrids with specific traits.


India protects varieties under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act (2001) formed in compliance with the intergovernmental TRIPS agreement that requires members to protect plant varieties using patents of by a  sui generis system.

“The problem at times has been implementation; India has the proper framework in place. That needs strengthening for companies to bring the latest technology here, not just seeds but even for crop protection where molecules need to protected,” said KC Ravi, Syngenta’s Vice-President of Commercial Acceptance and Public Policy for South Asia.

Difficult in practice

Pray said the main thing for companies here is to figure out how to protect their technologies from being copied so that their effort can be monetised. “Farmers will pay a good price if they feel there are benefits in the application,” he stated.

Cornell University professor Ronald Herring, however, believed that it was difficult to prevent germplasm from travelling across borders illegally.

India’s seed industry is estimated to be growing at about 12 per cent each year and is currently worth about ₹12,000 crore.

Published on December 05, 2014

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