SC verdict on Monsanto seeds: A setback for domestic seeds producers

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The verdict of the Supreme Court that held that Monsanto’s patent claim on genetically modified (GM) Bt. cotton was valid, would likely to be a major setback for the Indian seed manufacturers.

A bench headed by Justice R.F. Nariman set aside a 2 May order of the division bench of the Delhi High Court, which had held that plant varieties and seeds cannot be patented under Indian law by companies such as Monsanto Inc., and that royalties on GM technology would be decided by a specialised agency of the agriculture ministry.

As a result, the patent held by Monsanto, through its Indian arm Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech Ltd (MMBL) over its Bollgard-II Bt cotton seed technology, a GM variant which resists the bollworm pest, was decreed to be unenforceable in India.

A division bench of the Delhi High Court comprising justices Ravindra Bhat and Yogesh Khanna had permitted MMBL to approach the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPVFRA) under the agriculture ministry for registering the variety within three months, following which the authority had to decide on a benefit-sharing mechanism. At present, trait fees on Bt cotton seeds are decided by a price control committee under the agriculture ministry.

The court had also directed Monsanto to continue with its obligations under the sub-licence agreements and allowed “the suit to proceed with respect to the claim for damages and other reliefs”, in the light of the sub-licence termination notices issued by Monsanto.

The court’s order came in a case filed in 2015 by Monsanto, through MMBL, against Nuziveedu Seeds and its subsidiaries for selling Bt cotton seeds using its patented technology despite termination of a licence agreement in November 2015.
The former Shetkari Sanghatana president, Vijay Jawandhia felt that the Apex court’s verdict would not affect the cotton growers much as the Monsanto takes hardly Rs 6o-70 from per packet of seeds.

According to him, the main exploiters are the domestic seeds manufactures who take Rs 400 per kg from the farmers and then sell it to them at the rate of Rs 1800 per kg.
The chairman of the state agriculture mission, Kishore Tiwari described the Supreme Court judgement on Monsanto’s patent claim on genetically modified Bt cotton valid, as “unfortunate.”

He said that if the company takes royalty on its seeds, then it should also take the responsibility of failure.