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

How to Get Your Startup Up and Running with a Business Incubator

Written by Dan Tyre

Starting a company can be a lonely process for a first-time entrepreneur. There’s a lot of hard work, self-discipline, limited feedback on priorities, and process fraught with potholes — some critical to the success of the enterprise itself.

Over the last decade, founders and startups have turned to business incubators and accelerators to scale their business. The concept makes a lot of sense for entrepreneurs or early-stage founding teams that want to leverage a defined process for success and transition to a sustainable enterprise. But what is a business incubator?

Business Incubator Definition

A business incubator is a company that helps startups and new businesses accelerate their growth and success. Incubators do this by providing support in a variety of areas including management training, office space, capital, mentorship, and networking connections.

Incubators can be sponsored by different types of organizations including venture funds or private companies, municipal economic development organizations, and even colleges or universities.

Business Incubator Models

Some incubators are focused on different types of companies (i.e., fintech startups), vertical markets (i.e., the energy market), or geographic locations (i.e., companies in Arizona).

In fact, the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) categorizes incubators into five models:

  1. Academic institutions
  2. Nonprofit development corporations
  3. For-profit property development ventures
  4. Venture capital firms
  5. A combination of the above

Companies usually spend one to two years in a business incubator — a span determined by need and/or obligation. A benefit of the business incubator model is that it creates a shared learning experience and supports collaboration.

The ability to receive quick, accurate information from incubator executives, mentors, instructors, or fellow entrepreneurs can have a significant impact on your ability to focus on the right priorities and make the right decisions to grow your business.

What is a Small Business Incubator?

Many business incubators support small businesses or startups. So, if you’re looking for a “small business incubator,” you’re likely simply looking for a “business incubator” that provides support for business infrastructure, training, and capital.

Note that business incubators are different than business accelerators. While incubators exist to nurture the growth of a new business, accelerators are generally geared towards helping entrepreneurs transform their ideas into products or services that are ready for market quickly — in as little as a few months.

It’s important to know the difference between these two models and to discern which is right for your company or idea.

What Does a Business Incubator Do?

An incubator should provide diverse benefits to startup entrepreneurs. These benefits can include:

  1. Office space – Some incubators offer office space for free or below-market rates to their portfolio companies. This solves several problems for startups. Mainly, it allows them to find a professional space for their employees to work without having to sign a lease — especially helpful when the company is unsure how quickly they’ll scale production or headcount.
  2. Specialized equipment – Some incubators invest in specialized equipment, like modeling software, 3D printers, prototyping equipment, or software development labs. This is a huge advantage for scaling companies in their infancy. Access to costly equipment and simulation programs can be crucial.
  3. Experienced mentors – It’s important for startups to limit critical mistakes while scaling. Most incubators offer an experienced staff of savvy industry executives to help the core team stay focused and avoid mistakes. Incubators usually employ mentors with specific startup experience that can help explain the process, planning, and decision criteria — all while steering new entrepreneurs away from costly mistakes they made or witnessed.
  4. Group training and education – Many business incubators offer an array of important business training spanning from legal advice on startup documents, incorporation terms, or IP issues to general business challenges like how to ship a product, establish a quality culture, or establish sales and marketing processes.
  5. Software discounts – From accounting to project management, incubators typically offer business software that helps their startups scale. Pricing and education are typically vetted and negotiated for a standard rate allowing portfolio companies to get right to work. HubSpot offers this type of arrangement to more than 1000 startup partners worldwide.
  6. Shared business services – Much like leveraging software availability and selection, many incubators offer accounting, banking, marketing, and manufacturing services to help companies scale.
  7. Community – One of the best attributes of business incubators are intangibles. Working with a group of like-minded entrepreneurs, using connections for connecting with prospects or customers, and learning from others in your cohort are invaluable parts of incubator life.

Is My Startup a Good Fit for a Business Incubator?

According to HubSpot for Startups’ Christian Mongillo, “The most important criteria is fit. Find a business incubator that works economically and allows you to expand as your team expands.

Look for one that has a selection process and is searching for similar types of companies. It’s not just a coworking space. The best incubators have a great mentor network and produce good results. They also have free wifi.”

Are all companies good fits for incubators? “Not necessarily,” says Mongillo. “If you’re a lifestyle company, a second-time entrepreneur, have access to office space, or want to build your own company culture, it might not be a good fit.

Some incubators require companies to give them an equity stake. So, if you don’t need the special services, you might be better off on your own.”

How Do I Get into a Business Incubator?

Being accepted into a business incubator can and should be a process. Most incubators have an admissions process and require companies to apply for acceptance.

Criteria for acceptance into an incubator varies, but most require you to present a feasible business idea and professional business plan. Here are a few steps to get started finding an incubator that’s right for your business.

  1. Review your options geographically or vertically – Because of the sheer volume of available incubators, you might have more than one option to choose from. By doing a quick regional search, you can understand and rank the incubators that might be a good fit. Always review the website and ask for references from successful companies they’ve helped as well as a few from companies that have dropped out to get an overall view of fit.
  2. Review criteria for admission – Most incubators have defined criteria for which types of companies they’re prepared to help. Some require certain milestones or criteria, like headcount, capital, entrepreneurial experience, background, revenue, or product fit. Others require contractual obligations from the accepted companies, so reviewing the application and understanding what’s is crucial to ascertaining fit.
  3. Prepare a business plan – A business plan might not be required during the application process, but it’s helpful in determining whether the incubator is a good match. I’m a big fan of the three-page business plan rather than an unabridged version. A simple overview of business name, team build, value proposition, competitive advantage, addressable market, go to market strategy, product or service, and a 12-month forecast can help you differentiate your company.
  4. Be prepared to work with a screening committee – In most cases, incubators will accept initial applications for companies meeting basic criteria. Some incubators require a video submission to explain the basic business model, vision, and mission of the company. The second stage is usually to meet and discuss your goals, plans, strengths, and weaknesses with a screening committee. This might take the form of an application, pitch or interview, and a series of meetings to set expectations for each side.