Plant Variety Protection

Supreme Court Stays Delhi High Court Judgment Striking Down Sec. 24(5) of Plant Varieties Act


Last December, I had covered a judgment delivered by a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court striking down Section 24(5) of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFRA).

This provision empowers the registrar of plant varieties to issue interim directions to prevent abusive conduct by third parties during the period between the filing of an application for the registration of a plant variety and the making of a final decision as regards the grant of registration. It reads as follows: “(5) The Registrar shall have power to issue such directions to protect the interests of a breeder against any abusive act committed by any third party during the period between filing of application for registration and decision taken by the Authority on such application.”

In a judgment authored by Justice Ravindra Bhat, the Delhi High Court had struck down the provision on the ground that it gives broad and sweeping powers to the registrar to issue interim directions without supplying any parameters in accordance with which such powers are to be exercised. Since the application of this provision requires the Registrar to properly construe such open-ended terms as ‘abusive acts’, the court reasoned, the registrar cannot be allowed to exercise his discretion in an unguided fashion. On this basis, the court held that the provision suffers from the vice of arbitrariness and is liable to be struck down under Article 14.

Late last month, the Supreme Court stayed the Delhi High Court’s judgment and listed the matter for hearing on the 22nd of November. Pioneer Overseas Corporation and Union of India filed the SLP in the Supreme Court, resulting in the grant of the stay. All parties have been directed to file their pleadings by the 22nd of November.

While it remains to be seen how the Apex Court rules in this matter, it would be fair to state that the Delhi High Court’s judgment would be difficult to displace. As I had explained in my analysis of the judgment adverted to above, the judgment in most respects is a textbook application of the new doctrine of equality as per which state action that is arbitrary can be struck down under Article 14. Since the judgment offers a cogent rationale in favour of the proposition that Section 24(5) does not delineate any principles to guide the registrar’s actions, it rests on a very firm legal footing.

Curiously, the Supreme Court order records the decision of the Court to stay the impugned decision without offering any reasons in support of this determination. We will keep our readers informed of any further developments in this matter!

Rahul Bajaj

Rahul Bajaj is a fourth year law student at the University of Nagpur. His interest in intellectual property law began taking a concrete shape when he pursued Professor William Fisher's online course on copyright law in the second year of law school. Since then, Rahul has worked on a diverse array of IP matters during his internships. He is particularly interested in studying the role of intellectual property law in facilitating access to education.

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