Even as the government stance on giving a nod to GM mustard remains unclear, it has mounted a fresh salvo against GM crops, the patents granted to them and the royalties associated with such patents.In a case between Monsanto and a former licensee Nuziveedu Seeds in the Delhi High Court, the central government is arguing that GM plants/ seeds cannot be patented, that Monsanto is lying when it says it has a patent on Bt cotton seeds, that Monsanto’s claim that the Bt gene has contributed to a rise in cotton productivity is exaggerated and that the patent is nothing but an attempt to extract monopoly rents — though the amount collected by Monsanto is said to be Rs 6,000 crore since 2002, the value of the crop which would put perspective on whether the profit is excessive is not mentioned.
While the government is not party to the dispute between Monsanto and Nuziveedu, it sought to intervene due to the ‘nationwide ramifications on the agriculture, farmers and on the entire population, as their food security would be impacted by monopolies on seeds and plants’. It says that since Monsanto has ‘already got such patents on Pig in the USA’, as and when a transgenic trait is introduced in them, this can extend to even animals, apart from other crops.
The Delhi High Court refused to accept the government’s voluminous submission on Tuesday and told it to file a 5-page note while allowing Monsanto to object to this last-minute intervention after the entire case had been heard and the judgment reserved.
Though Bt cotton farmers have not complained about Monsanto’s seed cost, and only one of its 45 licensees is not paying royalties, the government’s submission talks of how India’s 600 million farmers have an average of 1.15 hectare holdings as compared to the US where 10 lakh farmers have 200 hectares on average. So, it says, ‘any decision concerning agriculture affects the livelihood of the farming communities’.
While Monsanto gets royalties under the Patent Act where this is subject to the agreement it signs with licensees like Nuziveedu, the government submission says the issue is better addressed under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act (PPVFRA) where the royalty is fixed by the PPVFRA Authority.
The submission says that if Bt cotton varieties are to be the subject of patents, transferring the Bt gene into them requires the approval of the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) though, since the gene is man-made and developed in the US, it is not clear how biodiversity is affected. The government also says ‘the claim of Monsanto that they have patent on Bt Cotton seeds is a lie as Indian Patent Office never granted patent to Monsanto … in accordance with prohibition under Patent Law in India’. Monsanto’s stated position, on the other hand, is that it has a patent on the Bt gene and not on the seed.
The government concludes, saying, ‘there cannot be any infringement of any provisions of the Patent Act with reference to the intellectual property rights if any on GM plant varieties and seeds are not patentable either directly or indirectly under the Patent Act as inventions’. Which means, while the current intervention is related to Monsanto’s Bt cotton, it has larger ramifications for patents on GM which, the government says, ‘can only be invoked under the provisions of the PPVFR Act’.