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20 May 2019AsiaArchana Shanker and Gitika Suri

Agri-patents: The battle of the seeds

Monsanto’s legal battle with Indian seed companies is one of the most closely-monitored patent disputes in India. The issues in this dispute revolve around patenting artificially-created gene sequences for the agri-biotech industry, and its outcome will have ramifications for the entire biotech industry. How India finally fares on patent enforcement will be decided by the courts in this dispute.

Monsanto’s battle

Monsanto Technology, Monsanto Holdings and Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) (Monsanto) filed a suit for infringement and passing off against three Indian seed companies: Nuziveedu Seeds, Prabhat Agri Biotech and Pravardhan Seeds, on the grounds that the seed companies were continuing to “market and sell” genetically modified hybrid cotton planting seeds despite the termination of the sublicence agreements between the parties, alleging violation of patent rights covered by Monsanto’s registered patent (IN 214436) and also its trademarks, ‘Bollgard’ and ‘Bollgard II’.

The single judge of the Delhi High Court (DHC) in March 2017 ruled that Monsanto’s termination of its sublicence agreement with the seed companies was illegal and arbitrary. The court reinstated the agreement and directed payment of a trait fee (royalty for use of the seeds) to Monsanto for the use of the patent and trademarks in suit, in accordance with the prevalent local laws in force.

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