Never ending story? Update on the PepsiCo vs Indian farmer fight over a potato patent

PepsiCo has at last been given the green light to claim for a patent for a special Solanum tuberosum (potato) variety after the Delhi High Court set aside a July 2023 judge order to uphold the revocation of the patent in 2021.

The David vs Goliath-style case has not been an easy ride, involving a showdown between the major snacking giant and India’s potato farmers and several scrambles into court.

At the centre: PepsiCo’s FC5 varietal.

Pic: GettyImages

Let’s break it down.

PepsiCo vs potato farmers

In 1999, PepsiCo set up a tissue culture and mini-tuber facility in Zahura, Punjab, to develop seeds of its own potato varietals.​

The FC5 – also known as the FL2027 – was put into commercial use in 2009. It is considered the standard for potato chip processing because of its low water content (80% compared with 85% of other varieties). According to the Lay’s brand owner, these qualities make it unsuitable for use as a table potato, as it requires more time and energy in the cooking process.

In 2016, the snacks producer was issued with the IP (intellectual property) rights for the varietal under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001.

PepsiCo India was granted a certificate of registration for FL 2027 as an ‘extant variety’ for six years. During the validity of the certificate – which could be extended for up to 15 years – the breeder has sole authority over that variety, meaning no one could commercially produce, sell, market, distribute, import or export it without its authorisation.