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Understanding Indian legal framework for protecting intellectual property in crop research

The Plant Variety Journal of India will here on publish Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability (DUS) testing results of crops in India. The testing phase is the most important step in the plant variety registration process and publication of testing data is to ensure transparency, emphasized Dr TK Nagarathna, Registrar at Government of India’s Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority, at a webinar on 26 August.

The journal will start publishing DUS data from its August issue. “The passport information in the journal will provide a hyperlink that can be used to check DUS data online. The photographs will also be published,” Dr Nagarathna said. She was speaking at a webinar organised by the European Business & Technology Centre (EBTC) and the Intellectual Property Facilitation Cell (IPFC) at AIP of ICRISAT on ‘Legal framework for Protection of Plant varieties in India: Challenges and Opportunities’.

Speakers at the webinar introduced Indian law governing intellectual property in crops research, focusing on the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFR). They also stressed the importance of registering varieties – both extant and new – to safeguard intellectual property rights. Practitioners of IP law, the regulatory authority, and researchers participated in this first-in-a-series webinar.

Dr Kalpana Sastry, a well-known researcher from the ICAR system who has worked extensively with scientists and entrepreneurs noted pendency in clearing registration applications and lack of awareness of legal rights and guarantees among farmers as challenges faced by users, specifically public sector institutions.

Dr Neeti Wilson, a lawyer specializing in IP management and a partner at the law firm Anand & Anand, provided an overview of international treaties and laws. She discussed CBD, TRIPS, ITPGRFA and statutes in Indian legal system for IP management with respect to plant varieties, farmers’ and breeders’ rights. Dr Wilson noted that the 15-day period given by the Plant Variety Authority to respond to queries raised is often inadequate for scientists or institutions. She recommended a reconsideration of timelines during the application filing process.

Dr Nagarathna noted that a new time-targeted system has been implemented after September 2018 which has expedited the registration process. The new system has helped clear applications faster in the last two years and has also reduced pendency, she said. She added that the government will soon roll out an online system for filing applications which will help expedite the process.

A panel discussion followed the presentations. Dr Surya Mani Tripathi, Legal Counsel, ICRISAT, and Ms Hana Onderkova, Head, IP, EBTC, moderated the discussion. Dr Tripathi highlighted matters including infringement while discussing rights under PPVFR. Dr Wilson noted that in case of infringement, all data and evidence of infringement should be gathered. Having up-to-date certification and testing data, including a DNA test and other lab tests results, is useful to counter infringement, she said.

Other takeaways from the webinar:

  • The deadline for sending applications for registration has been extended by three months (until October 2020) due to the pandemic.
  • Frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the PPVFR website were updated in the last week of August. They are now open to public.
  • To protect the interest of plant breeder, the Plant Protection Authority has provided provisional protection for breeders for the period between date of application and date of grant.
  • DNA fingerprinting is now added to the DUS testing of a plant variety along with the regular field testing protocols.
  • PPVFR’s has revised its focus on Post-PVP registration scenario, including plans to assist commercialisation and bring monetary benefits to the registered varieties.

A recording of the webinar can be viewed here

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