In a setback to PepsiCo, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Authority (PPVFRA), has revoked a PVP certificate granted to PepsiCo India Holding on a potato variety (FL-2027) on multiple grounds.

Acting on a plea by farm activist Kavita Kuruganti, the Authority felt that the grant of the certificate of registration was based on "incorrect information" furnished by the applicant.

It also concurred with the petitioner’s argument that the certificate was granted to a person “not eligible for protection”.

On the development, a PepsiCo India spokesperson said, "We are aware of the order passed by the PPVFR Authority and are in the process of reviewing the same. Hence, at this moment it would be premature to offer any detailed comments."

The petitioner’s argument was that the breeder did not provide the Registrar with “such information, documents or material as required for registration” and that the grant of the certificate of registration “is not in the public interest”.

“This means that Pepsico’s varietal IPR as granted in a plant variety certificate in February 2016 will be taken back by the Authority. The judgement brings to light the procedural gaps in the grant of PVCs,” Kavita Kuruganti said in a statement on Friday.

In the revocation application filed in June 2019, the petitioner argued that the IPR granted to Pepsico India on a potato variety was not as per provisions laid down for registration and was also against public interest.

The company now has just about two months of the original registration time period left. The registration certificate given to the company was renewable up to January 31, 2031. It, however, stands revoked.

This judgement sets a precedent for all seed and F&B corporations and other registrants to not only uphold, but also more importantly, not to transgress the legally granted farmers’ seed rights and freedoms in India.

Historic judgement

Shalini Bhutani, legal researcher and IPR expert in agriculture and biodiversity, termed the judgement “significant and historic”.

“It upholds farmers’ seed freedom as contained in Section 39 of the PPV&FR Act, which makes this law truly unique. The acceptance of the revocation application sends an important signal that farmers’ rights cannot be taken lightly by IPR-holders in the country,” she pointed out.

The 2001 Act provides routine legal provisions for opposition to the IP registration at the time of grant of registration.

Farmers sued

Kavita Kuruganti alleged that the company used the certificate to sue hapless and uninformed farmers in Gujarat in 2018 and 2019.

“The legislation is unambiguous that farmers have over-arching rights over what seed they can plant, as well as what they are entitled to do with their produce from any variety, including seed of registered variety. The only condition is that they may not sell seeds of protected varieties in a branded fashion, knowingly,” she said.

Indian farmers can claim innocent infringement if done unknowingly. “Despite the law being this clear, Pepsico India harassed and intimidated farmers and sued them for exorbitant levels of alleged damages in 2018 and 2019,” she said.

"We are happy with the result of this case filed with the Authority and feel proud to be instrumental in setting up the precedent that asserts farmers’ rights. We are thankful to the farm activists also," Bipinbai Patel, one of the farmers sued by PIH in 2019, said.

"The registrants’ rights are limited to production of a variety, and not production from a variety. Even when it comes to production of a variety, farmers have rights to produce seeds and even sell seeds of a protected variety provided it is unbranded,” said Kapil Shah of Kisan Beej Adhikar Manch.