And now, PepsiCo takes farmers to court over potato IPR
25 April 2019
Beverages and fast food multinational PepsiCo is reported to have filed lawsuits against four potato growers in Gujarat alleging infringement of patent rights to a plant variety, on which it claims to have intellectual property rights.
PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt Ltd (PIH) reportedly filed the lawsuits against four farmers from Sabarkantha district — with a land holding of less than 2 hectares — for allegedly growing a variety of potato, FL 2027 (also called FC5), claiming “estimated damages” of Rs1 crore each.
The potato variety at stake, according to PepsiCo is the one it uses for its popular Lay’s chips. PepsiCo claims exclusive rights to the potato variety by virtue of a Plant Variety Certificate (PVC) under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001.
The cases were filed in the Commercial Court at the City Civil Court in Ahmedabad last month, and the next hearing is scheduled for 26 April. The court had, however, stayed the farmers from growing and selling the potatoes till 26 April and had sought replies from them on the allegations levelled by the company.
“At this stage, it appears the plaintiff (PepsiCo) has prima facie case in its favour” the court said while admitting 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.”
Plant Variety Rights (PVR) or Plant Breeders' Rights (PBR) are rights granted to the breeder of a new variety of plant that give the breeder exclusive control over the propagating material (including seed, cuttings, divisions, tissue culture) and harvested material (cut flowers, fruit, foliage) of a new variety for a certain period
Farmer organisations and civil society representatives have opposed PepsiCo’s move against the four potato growers from Sabarkantha district for allegedly growing a variety of potato on which PepsiCo claimed exclusive rights.
Farmers say the MNC’s move is 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 and civil society representatives have 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,” reports quoted Ambubhai Patel, National Vice-President, BKS, as saying.
PepsiCo is also alleged to have wrongfully used private detective agencies to entrap farmers by creating secret video to implicate them.
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.