Intellectual Property | Plant Variety | Del HC| Rights of applicant for registration as a plant variety are inchoate & not crystallized till grant of registration

Delhi High Court: Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, J., while dismissing the present suit wherein plaintiff was found with no rights asserting which suit was filed, held that

“Rights of the applicant for registration as a plant variety are inchoate and not crystallized till grant of registration.”

Plaintiff pleaded that it is in business of research, production, processing, marketing and sale of high quality hybrids and varietal seeds. Defendant 1 and 2 are ex-employees plaintiff who have joined employment and of are currently employed with defendant 3 which a competitor of plaintiff.

Further it has been pleaded by the plaintiff that

  • to protect sensitive and confidential information relating to the product and product development know-how, varieties, hybrids, parent-lines, breeding strategies and associated know-how and trade secrets developed by the plaintiff, requires its employees to enter into an employment agreement and undertake not to disclose any such sensitive and confidential information to any third party during the course of employment and at any time thereafter.
  • plaintiff mandates its employees to execute a Deed of Assignment of all rights, title and interest to any and all intellectual property developed by the employee or in the development of which the employee has contributed, during the term of the employment with the plaintiff, to the plaintiff
  • defendants 1 & 2 had access to the plaintiff’s intellectual property including trade secrets such as the parent lines of the plaintiff’s hybrids and seeds used for cultivation of the parent lines of the plaintiff’s hybrids, breeding strategies etc.
  • One of the hybrid varieties developed by the plaintiff is the Cauliflower Hybrid no.SCFH-130 sold in the market under the name ‘Katreena’

Plaintiff came across packets of hybrid cauliflower seeds in the market which carried the photographs of the plaintiff’s hybrid cauliflower SCFH-130, being marketed under the name ‘Riya’ and claiming almost identical characteristic features, which later through tests were proved to be of 100% identical characteristics features.

Plaintiff alleged that defendant 3 knowingly misappropriated the trade secret parent lines of plaintiff and also acquired confidential information relating to breeding strategies, soil conditions for breeding impugned hybrid from defendant 1 and 2.

Defendant 3 has indulged in unfair competition by wrongfully exploiting the plaintiff’s valuable confidential information, trade secrets, copyright and other intellectual property rights.

Thus, plaintiff claimed permanent injunction restraining defendant 1 and 2 from disclosing or using any confidential information plaintiff including parental materials, etc., defendant 3 from disclosing or using the same.

Sole ground for rejection sought of the plaint being bar of the jurisdiction of this Court, contained in Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001.

Court in view of the above, examined the provisions in context of the present issue and stated that rights conferred by the PPVFR Act, on the breeder of a plant variety, are thus a facet of intellectual property and fall in the same domain as trade marks, copyright, patents and design.

Bench while analysing the issue also stated that,

I wonder, how a breeder of a new plant variety, which in accordance with law has already been placed in public domain by marketing thereof, can be left remediless against the person who, taking advantage of the fact that registration takes time, violates the rights of the breeder.

During the hearing, it was felt that the relief seeking which the suit had been filed was within the domain of Registrar of Plant Varieties in exercise of powers under Section 24(5) of the PPVFR Act and the jurisdiction of this Court thus was barred under Section 89 thereof.

It was thus felt that the suit was not entertainable and plaint liable to be rejected.

Court also observed that the commercial exploitation of a plant variety by a person who is not the breeder thereof but who may have come across such variety, before the breeder thereof has obtained registration of the same under the PPVFR Act and breeder being remediless till then, but on further consideration find that it is not as if the breeder would be remediless.

Breeder, once has been granted registration, in an action for infringement can always claim profits earned by such infringer for the pre-registration period as well.

Confidentiality and Secrecy obligations can only be with respect to a right which the person is entitled to protect. What the plaintiff did not have any right in, the plaintiff could not have protected by entering into agreements with the defendants 1 and 2.

Plaintiff, prior to obtaining registration under the PPVFR Act, cannot maintain a suit to restrain the defendants from infringing the rights which are yet to be conferred on the plaintiff on grant of registration.

Thus, the Court referring to the decision of Prabhat Agri Biotech Ltd. v. Registrar of Plant Varieties, 2016 SCC OnLine Del 6236 held that,

Rights of the applicant for registration as a plant variety are inchoate and not crystallized till grant of registration and the Registrar of Plant Varieties is not entitled to, pending registration, restrain another from commercially exploiting the plant variety, registration of which is sought, so will this Court as the Civil Court be not entitled to protect the claimed rights till crystallized by way of registration. [Sungro Seeds Ltd. v. Dr S.K. Tripathi, 2020 SCC OnLine Del 591 , decided on 15-05-2020]

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