The US food and beverages giant PepsiCo has sued three farmers from Gujarat, complaining that they have been illegally growing and selling a variety of potato exclusively registered to Pepsico for the use of producing its Lays potato chips.
Looking at the company’s registration of the potato variety in country’s Plant Variety Registry, the commercial court here last week stayed the farmers –Chabilbhai Patel, Vinod Patel, Haribhai Patel – from growing and selling the potatoes till April 26. The court has also sought reply from the three over company’s claims of infringement on its rights.
On company’s request, the commercial court judge Moolchand Tyagi appointed advocate Paras Sukhwani as court commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the dispute and prepare a report.
PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt Ltd has informed the court that it uses the registered variety of potatoes called FL 2027, which is a hybrid of FL 1867 and Wischip varieties, for manufacturing chips for its brand. The company is the registered breeder of FL 2027 under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001.
In India, this variety was first put to commercial use in 2009 and is traded under the trademark FC5. It has granted licence to some farmers in Punjab to grow the variety on the buyback system. By growing these potatoes without licence, these farmers in Gujarat are violating its statutory rights.
The company further said that it came to know about the farmers growing this potato variety in January. It collected samples and sent for verification to the in-house laboratory as well as the ICAR and Central Potato Research Institute at Shimla for DNA analysis. The results showed that the respondents were growing the registered variety. It placed the report before the court.
On hearing the company’s submissions, the court said, “At this stage, it appears that the plaintiff has prima facie case in its favour.” It said that if the farmers are not temporarily stayed from growing and selling potatoes, the company would suffer irreparable loss and it would defeat the justice.
The court appointed the court commissioner for preparing inventory, taking samples and sending them to the government laboratory and Potato Research Centre at Shimla for analysis. The court said that if the commissioner is not appointed, the defendants may dispose the stock lying in their premises and destroy evidence.
The court has also ordered police authorities to provide protection to the court commissioner, who will conduct videography and photography of the proceeding.