NEW DELHI: While many sections of the media have reported that the Supreme Court on January 8, upheld the validity of Monsanto’s patent on the genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton seed in India, it has not. Instead, the apex court has ordered that the issue of patentability be determined by a single-judge bench of the High Court after expert evidence has been laid before it.
This was clarified in a press statement by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Education, which had intervened in the case through its director Vandana Shiva, and had been represented in court by senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
Stating that the sword of Section 3(j) of India’s Patents Act was hanging over Monsanto’s Bt Cotton patent, the organisation said the misreporting seemed to have have taken place as “only a few operative sentences were read in the Court in the morning and the full text of the judgment was not available until the evening.”
Section 3(j) of the Patents Act bars “plants and animals in whole or any part thereof other than micro-organisms but including seeds, varieties and species and essentially biological processes for production or propagation of plants and animals” from being patented in India.
American agribusiness giant Monsanto had filed a patent infringement suit against a local seed licensee, Nuziveedu Seeds Limited.
On May 2, 2018, the division (two-judge) bench of the Delhi high court — acting on an appeal against an earlier interim order of the single bench — had ruled that Monsanto’s patent claim on Bt Cotton was invalid on account of Section 3(j).
“On a technical procedural ground, the Supreme Court held that it was incorrect for the Division Bench to rule on patentability in an appeal from an interim order without expert evidence having been led before it as regards patentability. Consequently, setting aside the Division Bench judgment and restoring the Single Judge’s interim order, the Supreme Court has directed the Single Judge to determine all issues including the issue of patentability in a full trial,” said the press statement issued by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Education.
The Foundation said it would be difficult for Monsanto’s patent to survive a full-fledged trial backed with evidence before the single judge, “as previously unknown facts have been disclosed before the Supreme Court during the hearing.”
It said the SC order was “yet another setback for Monsanto, after the Delhi High Court in another case recently allowed the Competition Commission of India to investigate further whether it was abusing its dominant position in the Seed Industry of India.”
Talking about the disastrous failure of the Bt Cotton seed and its impact on Indian farmers, the statement said that India’s regional governments had “also slapped the suppliers of Bt Cotton seeds with fines running into hundreds of crores as their genetically modified seeds have spectacularly failed to have the stated effect.”
During the hearings before the Supreme Court, both Monsanto and their Indian partners had blamed each other for the ‘quality’ of the seeds being supplied “to evade responsibility for the disaster that they’ve been to India’s farmers”, it said.