The Supreme Court has held that Monsanto’s patent claim on genetically modified (GM) Bt. cotton was valid. A bench headed by Mr. Justice R.F. Marian 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 Mr. 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 order and the court’s interpretation of Section 3(j) of the Patents Act, 1970, could prove to be an impediment for the entry of new technology in the Indian agriculture sector as developers will lose pricing freedom. Monsanto had appealed the order in the Supreme Court.