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Planting ‘Protection’, reaping ‘Innovation’

Written by Shiv Shankar (Research Associate ,ILF)

As per World Bank estimates, development in agriculture has the potential to end extreme poverty and to feed a projected 9.7 billion people by 2050. Advancements in technology across the globe like sensors, devices, machines, and information technology have brought fundamental transformation in agriculture. New technologies like Vertical/urban farming etc. have brought food production to consumers increasing efficiencies in the food chain.

Innovation in agriculture makes food and agriculture sector climate-smart, improves livelihoods, creates jobs (particularly for women and youth), boosts agribusiness and improves food security. To encourage innovation in agriculture, inventors or creators must be provided with intellectual property rights (IPR) in order to encourage and protect their innovation.

IPR provides exclusive legal rights to the creator so that he or she can engage in buying, selling, licensing and exchange activities for their innovative product for a specified period of time. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Intellectual property rights allow creators, or owners, of patents, trademarks or copyrighted works to benefit from their work or investment in a creation.

It requires great, time, effort, knowledge, skill and capital for the creation of something unique in nature. Such invention demands proper recognition and reward. The primary motive behind establishing IPR is driven by an economic cause. IPRs tend to provide the monopolistic right to the inventor for the commercial exploitation of innovation. However, the bigger dimension of establishing IPR is to improve the welfare of society. Through these rights, inventors are incentivized to invest in their work and to produce useful products or insights for the benefit of society at large. It will also create an enabling environment for accelerated R&D among agri-startups and Agri-preneurs and global competitiveness in Indian agriculture.

The Two-fold Protection

In India, broadly, twofold protection is provided to the plants: one through patents and another through plant variety protection developed from patents and sui generis systems.

In order to comply with the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement, India came up with the Patent reform of 2005. With this reform, product patents were introduced in all fields of sciences including pharmaceuticals, drugs, chemicals, and agriculture. Increased protection of the patent regime helps in accessing and importing advanced technologies from the developed nations to the developing countries like India. It provides patentee the right to prevent third parties from making, using or selling the patented product or process.

During the 90s and further in the 21st century, many existing laws were amended and new laws were created concerning intellectual property rights. One such important law namely ‘Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act was enacted in 2001 to bring India’s seed sector in line with the WTO TRIPS’ requirements. The Act granted specific rights to breeders, researchers, and farmers. Breeders’ rights confer exclusive rights to produce, sell, market, distribute, import or export the registered variety. Researchers’ rights grant researchers to use a registered variety for conducting experiments and use of variety as a source for creating other varieties. However, researchers are required to take authorization from the breeders for repeated use of registered variety. Farmers’ rights recognize farmers as a ‘breeder’ (for developing a new variety), a conservator (for conserving the genetic resources of land races and wild relatives of economic plants) and as a ‘user’ who is authorized to save, use, sow, re-sow, exchange and share or sell his farm produce, including seed of a variety protected under this Act. Also, under the sui-generis system of plant variety protection, a variety can be registered under either of four categories namely new variety, essentially derived varieties, extant variety, and farmers’ variety.

Opportunity, innovation& protection

Agritech start-ups have rapidly evolved over the past few years in India due to expanding digital penetration and funding. The future of the agriculture sector is largely dependent on innovation, data collaboration, easy working capital, and digital infrastructure. The Indian government is focused on facilitating a conducive environment for aspiring entrepreneurs so that they can contribute to the economic development of the country. In addition to this, a stricter IP regime is required for creating an enabling environment as well as protection for the aspiring and upcoming agri-startups and agri-preneurs. This will lead to increased R&D and technology-based innovation which would further contribute to the economic growth and prosperity of the country.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are personal and meant for providing general information related to intellectual property rights and should only be treated as such.)


  1. Kandpal, A., Bhooshan, N., Pal, S. (2015). Recent Trend in Patenting Activity in India and its Implications for Agriculture, 28 (1), pp.139-146, DOI: 10.5958/0974-0279.2015.00011.7

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