The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Authority has accepted a plea for revocation of a PVP (plant variety protection) certificate granted to PepsiCo India Holding on a potato variety in India (FL-2027). Among the multiple grounds on which the decision was take, one was that the grant of the certificate of registration has been based on incorrect information furnished by the applicant. The authority also agreed that the certificate has been granted to a person not eligible for protection, that the breeder did not provide the Registrar with information, documents and material required for registration and that the grant of the certificate of registration is not in public interest.

This means that Pepsico’s varietal IPR, as granted in a plant variety certificate in February 2016, will be taken back. The judgment brings to light the procedural gaps in grant of PVCs. Importantly, farmers’ rights, as contained in India’s Act, and any attempt to harass and intimidate farmers have been considered a matter of public interest.

“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,” said a Pepsico India spokesperson.

The revocation application was filed by farm activist Kavitha Kuruganti on June 11, 2019, and the Authority took almost 30 months in announcing its verdict. The company now has just about two months of the original registration time period left, which was till January 31, 2022 (the registration certificate given to the company was renewable up to January 31, 2031, but now stands revoked).

“This judgment of the Authority is significant and historic. It upholds farmers’ seed freedoms as contained in Sec. 39 of the PPV&FR Act, which makes this sui generis law of India truly unique. The Authority’s acceptance of the revocation application, including on grounds of being against public interest, sends an important signal that farmers’ rights cannot be taken lightly by IPR holders in the country. This should prevent further intimidation of farmers through vexatious IP lawsuits,” said Shalini Bhutani, legal researcher and IPR expert in agriculture and biodiversity.

In the current case, Pepsico India had used the certificate that it got from the Authority on FL-2027 potato variety to sue farmers in Gujarat in 2018 and 2019.

“It is a welcome development that with this judgment, the Authority has chosen to uphold the legal rights granted to farmers and has decisively considered Pepsi’s actions against potato farmers in Gujarat a violation of public interest", said Dr. Suman Sahai, founder, Gene Campaign.

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