Monsanto's Claim For GM Cotton Seeds Should Be Decided Based On Evidence; SC Sets Aside HC Order


The Supreme Court bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and Navin Sinha on Tuesday ruled that US Company Monsanto can claim patents on its genetically modified cotton seeds.

The Bench has set aside a decision of a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court by which Monsanto Technologies' patent in respect of its BT cotton seeds was held to be inapplicable in India.

The bench also restored the order of the Single Judge dated March 28, 2017 granting an interim injunction against Nuziveedu Seeds selling Bt cotton seeds using the trade-mark of US-based agro major Monsanto's Indian arm Mahyco Monsanto Biotech. Further, the suit for injunction is remanded to the Single Judge for disposal in accordance with law.

"We see no reason to reject the submission that it stands to reason why the plaintiffs would have consented to a summary adjudication of an existing patent and risk losing the same without any merit adjudication. The defendants themselves had contended in their appeal that the issues were complicated requiring expert evidence to be considered in a full­-fledged trial. The Division Bench therefore ought to have confined its adjudication to the question whether grant of injunction was justified or unjustified in the facts and circumstances of the case. The Division Bench ought not to have examined the counter claim [seeking revocation of the patent under Section 64 of the Patent Act, as being in violation of its Section 3(j) of in respect of plants and seeds that contained DNA sequences] itself usurping the jurisdiction of the Single Judge to decide unpatentability of the process claims also in the summary manner done. Summary adjudication of a technically complex suit requiring expert evidence also, at the stage of injunction in the manner done, was certainly neither desirable or permissible in the law. The suit involved complicated mixed questions of law and facts with regard to patentability and exclusion of patent which could be examined in the suit on basis of evidence", the apex court observed.

The court noted that Section 64 of the Act provides for revocation of patent based on a counter claim in a suit. It necessarily presupposes a valid consideration of the claims in the suit and the counter claim in accordance with law and not summary adjudication sans evidence by abstract consideration based on text books only.

The bench was of the view that The Civil Procedure Code provides a detailed procedure with regard to the manner in which a suit instituted under Section 9, including a counter claim has to be considered and adjudicated. The Code mandates a procedure by settlement of issues, examination and cross examination of witnesses by the parties, including discovery/inspection of documents, culminating in the hearing of the suit and decree. A suit can be disposed of at the initial stage only on an admission inter alia under Order 12 Rule 6 or when the parties are not in issue under Order 16 Rule 1 and the other grounds mentioned therein, none of which are applicable here.

"We are therefore satisfied that the Division Bench ought not to have disposed of the suit in a summary manner by relying on documents only, extracted from the public domain, and not even filed as exhibits in the suit, much less examination of expert witnesses, in the facts of the present case. There is no gain saying that the issues raised were complicated requiring technological and expert evidence with regard to issues of chemical process, biochemical, biotechnical and micro­ biological processes and more importantly whether the nucleic acid sequence trait once inserted could be removed from that variety or not and whether the patented DNA sequence was a plant or a part of a plant etc. are again all matters which were required to be considered at the final hearing of the suit", ruled the top court.

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