Globalization has led to a knowledge-based economy, and intellectual property rights protection has become an important motivator for innovation. Agribusiness was not historically concerned with IPR, as farming was based on sharing knowledge. Yet, the last few decades have witnessed remarkable advances in agriculture. The development of genetically modified plant varieties and specialized insecticides for pest control warrants an examination of the IPR regime of developing nations, particularly India. This is to encourage the introduction of innovative agricultural practices.

Patent rights are particularly important for technological innovation. By extending the patent scope, and increasing the number of inventions that are patentable, the patent system becomes more useful to inventors and contributes to social welfare. This gives inventors an incentive to invest in research and development since patent rights provide exclusivity on the invention.

IPR in agriculture in India

IPR in agriculture are used to protect goods or services produced in agricultural sector and mainly deals with patents, plant breeder’s right, trademarks, geographical indications and trade secrets. India Patent Act 1970 and subsequent amendments to it provided patents for agricultural tools and machinery or the processes of development of agricultural chemicals. Till the beginning of 2005, only method inventions relating to substances prepared by chemical processes were patentable. Then Government of India passed the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act in 2001. It became the world’s only IPR legislation on plant varieties that recognised and protected the rights of both breeders as well as farmers maintaining traditional landraces. The PPV&FR Authority set up under the Act started functioning from 2005.

The PPV&FR Act entitles farmers to save, use, sow, re-sow, exchange, share or sell their produce, including seed from a protected variety, as long as they do not resort to branding or packaging of the variety for commercial purposes. At the same time, breeders have exclusive rights for the commercial production, sale, marketing, distribution and export of their protected varieties.

Further, any plant breeder or researcher can use a registered variety for conducting experiment and research, or as an initial source of genetic material (parent) for the purpose of developing another variety. This is acceptable so long as the protected variety isn’t used as parent repeatedly for the production of commercial seed, which requires the prior authorisation of the original breeder/farmer.

IPR protection could lead to a significant increase in agricultural production

Agricultural innovations include developing healthier, safer, and more nutritious food for humans and animals (for example, genetically modified seeds, new breeding techniques). In the agricultural sector, innovation drives productivity.  However, there are grey areas in the Act which helps the unscrupulous to steal the varieties and develop substandard seeds which results in crop failure for the farmers.

Agriculture has made some remarkable advances in recent decades, especially in the transfer of beneficial traits into many crops that would otherwise face extinction due to diseases, droughts, and pests. With the help of resistant seed varieties, crops can provide greater yields while at the same time requiring fewer chemical fertilizers. It is particularly valuable for farmers in developing countries such as India. A significant contribution can be made to poverty reduction, malnutrition, food security, and disease control through the use of this part of agricultural innovation.

Farmers, researchers, private businesses, advisors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), consumers, and many others are involved in guiding, supporting, creating, transferring, or adopting agricultural innovations, and also advising and informing farmers and the public about them.

The importance of intellectual property protection for agricultural innovation has grown over the last few decades in India. Even though investing in innovation is one of the primary drivers of economic growth, governments are constrained when it comes to funding innovative projects, including agricultural research and development. Crop innovation involves five stages – discovery, proof of concept, early development, advanced development and pre-launch which It can take between 10-15 years to develop commercially viable seeds. Hence, patent protection and regulatory compliance allow investors to make long-term investments in innovation. Consequently, IP rights have received increasing attention for supporting agricultural development, including foreign direct investment (FDI), technology transfer, trade, access to genetic resources and protection of traditional knowledge.

In addition, intellectual property rights, primarily patents, have enabled plant genomics research to grow. Researchers are using advanced genomics to identify, map, and understand the gene expression of crops and their relationship to agriculturally significant traits.

IP rights play a key role in enabling companies to attract investors and generate the returns necessary to recoup development costs and invest in further R&D.Lack of IP rights discourages innovators to invest such huge sum of money to a technology. A balance between protecting the IP rights of breeders and allowing the technology flow to benefit the farmers and the whole ecosystem has to be implemented. This can only happen when there are strict actions taken for unscrupulous activities that can harm not only the technology but farmers who are vulnerable to a crop failure. This is great setback for the genuine market players who started with the vison of empowering the farmers with a breakthrough product but ends up losing trust and a return on investment.