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Most of us, while considering intellectual property rights (IPR) and their management, fail to recognize that multiple protections through different forms of IPR is possible in respect of an inventive work. Sometimes there is also a choice to prefer one form of IPR over the other forms. For example, one often exercises a choice between a patent and a trade secret. Similarly, protection for new plant varieties is possible through patents and plant breeders rights (PBR) in many countries. This would mean that the whole exercise of monitoring whether a new variety of a given plant has been protected or not will have to be planned and executed in a different manner. One will have to look at the patent databases as well as the plant variety databases. Consulting only one database may not reveal the correct picture.
It is now possible to obtain a patent on a plant variety in many countries such as the USA and the countries covered under EPO. There is, presently, no provision in India to protect a new plant variety. However, with the enactment of the New Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Protection Act, it would soon be possible to protect a new plant variety in India.
Turmeric has been on the centre stage for a while on account of the now well known patent on wound healing properties of turmeric. Researchers (breeders) and companies of at least two countries have protected many varieties (18) of turmeric or Curcuma Longa. Three are by a Japanese company and fifteen by Dutch companies. Some details of these varieties are given in Table I :-
It may be noted that whenever a new variety is protected under the UPOV provisions, it is essential to designate the variety with a name called denomination. For each variety denomination has been shown in the table. Some of the varieties are no longer protected varieties as their protection has expired for one reason or the other. However, the varieties, which remain protected in the Netherlands, will remain protected almost for 25 years.
Special features of these varieties are not clear from the database. A study of various companies who own the varieties have thrown some light on possible applications. Takeda Chemical Industries is basically a chemical company but is now engaged in manufacturing of drugs as well. It is likely that varieties developed by them would have some medical applications. K P Holland of the Netherlands has developed the new varieties to be used as pot plants or flowering plants- an unusual use of the turmeric plant. M/s K P Holland has said in its home page that turmeric is native to Thailand and other South East Asian countries. It is therefore quite interesting to note that they have given denominations which are derived from names of cities of Thailand and also the country name. For example Chiang Mai is a famous city of Thailand and Thailand until a few decades back was also known as Siam. Denominations derived from these names are Chiang Mai Ruby, Siam Ruby and Siam Snow. In the same manner, M/s Kwekerij has given denominations called Thai Candy and Thai Bright.
The story goes on; there are 13362 varieties of rose, 15987 varieties of maize, 7306 varieties of wheat and 2332 varieties of tomato reported in the database which have been protected under the UPOV provisions. It can be seen that scanning patent information in regard to new plant varieties is not adequate. In order to have a comprehensive understanding of the development of new plant varieties, it is essential to scan the plant variety database to find out if any protected variety harms our interests. Ricetec Inc had applied for a new rice variety in 1995 whose denomination was Basmati 867; this was published as well in 1996. The company with drew it for reasons known to them in 1997; this was the time when the US patent was granted to Ricetec on Basmati Rice Lines and Grains.