Half of the companies explicitly state that they do not limit the use of their varieties for further breeding or the use of farm-saved seeds. Companies demonstrate limited lower price or royalty-free licensing strategies related to their patent-protected material for the benefit of smallholder farmers in index countries.
This area seeks to clarify and assess the way companies handle their intellectual property (IP), both plant variety rights and patents, in index countries and whether this allows for further use in breeding by others and on-farm seed saving by smallholder farmers.
Most of the companies operating in the region support the breeders’ exemption in PVP laws. East-West Seed states that its authorization is not required for the use of protected varieties for breeding purposes. The company has PVP for its products in four countries: Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. While Syngenta’s commitment to supporting the breeders’ exemption in PVP laws remains unclear, the companies from or strongly linked to India, such as Advanta, Nuziveedu Seeds and Acsen HyVeg, report compliancy with the breeders’ exemption as outlined in India’s seed law (PVPFRA). Thirteen companies state that they refrain from using contractual clauses or other provisions that prohibit or otherwise limit the breeder’s exemption.
Companies differ widely when it comes to patenting their material. Global companies such as Corteva Agriscience, Monsanto and Bayer cite patents as an incentive to invention. While Bayer supports the patenting of native traits as well as any other form of plant-related invention, East-West Seed and Acsen HyVeg strongly oppose patenting native traits and essential biological processes. Syngenta states that ‘it does not enforce patents in seeds or biotechnology in least developed countries by subsistence farmers for predominantly private or non-commercial use’. Known-You Seed protects its varieties, mainly hybrids, via trade secret mechanisms, rather than PVP laws or patents.
Nine companies explicitly allow the practice of farm-saved seeds by smallholder farmers, subject to a few conditions. While most of the companies operating in India are reportedly compliant with the policies regarding farm-saved seeds, as stated in the country’s seed law, Syngenta states that saving seeds should be limited to ‘crops where seed saving is a traditional practice and should require farmers to pay a reasonable license fee for farm-saved seed unless it is being used for private, non-commercial use’. Corteva Agriscience suggests that the commercial use and sale of farm-saved seed from protected, proprietary varieties should not be permitted. However, it goes on to say that the industry can benefit from the available forms of IP protection for proprietary crop products without impacting traditional and non-commercial seed-saving activities by smallholder farmers.
Acsen HyVeg, which provides OPVs alongside hybrids for all its crops, indicates that it respects farmers’ choice to select farm-saved seed for their next crop. In contrast, companies such as Bayer, Namdhari Seeds, Known-You Seed, Lal Teer Seed, Mahyco and Metahelix focus their portfolio on hybrid varieties, which are not favorable for farm-saved seed practices.
Further, 13 companies state that in countries where the use of farm-saved seeds is legal, they do not use contracts or other mechanisms to prevent the saving, use, exchange and sometimes even the sale of farm-saved seed by smallholder farmers. Monsanto, on the other hand, states that when farmers buy its seeds, they sign an agreement not to save and replant seeds, although it is not clear to what extent this agreement is enforced in South and Southeast Asia.
The analysis of companies’ patent-licensing activities indicates a lack of strategies favorable to smallholder farmers. Although Syngenta’s e-licensing system TraitAbility allows industry-wide access to its patented native traits in vegetables, there is no indication that the licenses are offered at a lower price for use in index countries by smallholder farmers. Nonprofit organizations are given free access to these traits for research purposes.
Vegetable seed companies have set up a related initiative, the International Licensing Platform (ILP), which enables ‘vegetable breeders to license the traits they need at a fair and reasonable cost, so they can bring new products to the market that meet demands from growers and consumers’. The benefits from ILP are, however, limited to its members. In addition, no evidence was found that this platform has an explicit policy for index countries or smallholder farmers.
In South Asia, a debate is ongoing about fair licensing of patented genetic modification technologies for insect resistance in cotton, and the extent to which such licenses can influence the seed price for farmers. While this discussion is currently focused on cotton, which is not an index crop, the outcome of the debate and possible law suits could determine the legal framework for licensing fees for patents in index crops in the future. Related to this, Mahyco, in collaboration with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, has played an important role in the introduction of insect-resistant BT eggplant lines in Bangladesh. With no restrictions on farmers for saving seeds and replanting, the number of farmers adopting BT eggplant is rising. However, any commercial seed company wanting to formalize and commercialize seed production of BT eggplant will need to negotiate a license with Mahyco and Monsanto.
To improve access to patented technologiesby smallholder farmers,companies are encouraged to initiate specific licensing strategies that accommodate the needs of smallholder farmers.
In each measurement areas activities or approaches are identified that stand out or can be considered innovative in the industry. They contribute to the score of a company through leadership indicators.
Syngenta was among the first companies to make genetic information freely available in the form of rice genome data, and it plays an important role in the philanthropic initiative to make Golden Rice a reality. Golden Rice contains gene constructs that allow rice to produce precursors of vitamin A, an essential micronutrient that is often lacking in the diet of poor people.
Syngenta states that even though it has no commercial interest in Golden Rice, it and the Syngenta Foundation have provided financial support and assistance to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for the project and continue to support the introduction of Golden Rice through providing regulatory and stewardship support.