Seed freedom is our right. Monsanto doesn’t and can’t patent seeds in India

Monsanto has falsely claimed it has been granted a patent on genetically-modified cotton seeds in India. But the Supreme Court ruling has upheld India’s law, which doesn’t allow patents on seeds. The op-ed by Vandana Shiva.

Monsanto has spread the false claim in the media that on the 8th of January 2019 India’s Supreme court “upheld” a Bt cotton seed patent. This is totally false reporting. The Supreme Court order of 8th January 2019 upheld Article 3j of India’s Patent Law, which excludes seeds from patentability. It did not uphold a non-existent “patent on seed” that Monsanto does not and cannot have in India.

India is a civilisation based on “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam”, which means Earth as one family. For the last three decades corporations like Monsanto, whose only skill is to make poisons that kill humans and other life, started to use the tools of genetic engineering to try and claim patents on life and on seeds.

Why seeds can’t be patented in India 

A patent is an exclusive right granted to an inventor to prevent others from making, using, producing, selling and distributing  the patented  invention. A patent on seeds would prevent farmers from saving and exchanging seed. It would also imply that Monsanto is an inventor of life and the inventor of seed. In India we did not make this ethical and ontological mistake. In our Patent Law we introduced a clause Article 3j which clearly states that the following are not inventions, hence not patentable: “plants and animals in whole or in any part thereof other than microorganisms; but including seeds, varieties, and species, and essentially biological processes for production or propagation of plants and animals”.

Article 3j thus prevents Monsanto from having a patent on Bt cotton seed, contrary to the manipulated media reports. Monsanto had applied for a patent on Bt cotton but because India’s article 3j does not allow patents on seed, most claims it was rejected.

Without a patent on Bt cotton seed Monsanto has been collecting royalties from farmers. Monsanto illegally introduced Bt cotton and illegally claimed royalties increasing the price of cotton seeds by 80,000 per cent, this is the primary reason for farmer’s debt and suicide in the cotton area. Farmer’s crisis was aggravated by the fact that Bt cotton fails to control pests and has led to an epidemic of the pink bollworm pushing farmers to use more pesticides with many losing their lives to pesticide poisoning.

Monsanto introduced illegally bt cotton in India
Monsanto illegally introduced Bt cotton and illegally claimed royalties increasing the price of cotton seeds by 80,000 per cent. This is the primary reason for farmer’s debt and suicide in India’s cotton area © Seed Freedom

Not only did Monsanto illegally collect royalties, Monsanto had filed a case against Indian seed companies on “infringement”, falsely claiming that it had a patent on Bt cotton. Even in the Supreme Court it kept repeating false claims that Indian companies had been violating of  “my patent for 18 years”  to overturn a High Court’s decision that upheld the exclusion of patents on seeds in India’s Patent Law. The case was dismissed by the High Court of Delhi in its final judgment dated 11 April 2018.

Read also: It’s time for India to say no to Monsanto: 20 years of corruption and fraud is enough

It was three claims on DNA sequences that had been turned down by the division bench of the High Court, in addition to claims already rejected by the Patent Office. On 7 May 2018, Monsanto tried in an appeal in the Supreme Court to not just overrule the High Court’s decision but Article 3j itself.

© Scott Olson/Getty Images

And these three surviving claims related to Nucleic Acid Sequences (NASs) were the subject matter before the Supreme Court. Monsanto had deviously tried to argue in the court that they should get a product patent on DNA and genes as chemicals this would have undone Article 3j. The Supreme Court did not overrule 3j and did not grant product patents on genes. It has in fact upheld 3j and in the context of new arguments brought by us on the implications of gene patents including the case of suing farmers, the SC has sent the issue back to the trial court to investigate in detail these multiple aspects facts and law.

In effect, the sword of India’s patent laws hangs large on Monsanto’s “patent”. As previously unknown facts have been disclosed before the Supreme Court during the hearing, it is difficult to see how Monsanto’s patent can survive in a full fledged trial before the Single Judge.

Seed freedom is our right

This is yet another setback for Monsanto, after the High Court of Delhi in another case recently allowed the Competition Commission of India to investigate further whether it was abusing its dominant position in India’s seed industry. India’s regional governments have 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.

Monsanto introduced Bt cotton illegally. Monsanto lied about having patent on Bt Cotton. Monsanto lied about Bt as a pest control technology. Now it is lying about the Supreme Court order. Its lies have cost Indian farmers their lives. We will not allow Monsanto’s lies to continue to kill our farmers. We will not allow Monsanto lies to undermine our seed sovereignty and seed freedom. Seed freedom (bija swaraj) is our birthright.


This article first appeared in the magazine Seed Freedom

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