Published: Thursday 30 April 1998

India has few chances of getting the basmati patent cancelled, a leading Indian conservation scientist has said. P Pushpangadan, director of the Tropical Botanical Garden Research Institute in Thiruvananthapuram said, "India may find it difficult to fight the patent if the plant variety contains the gene for aromatic grains that are characteristic of basmati."

Pushpangadan has been presented with the prestigious Boulang Award for his efforts to protect traditional knowledge. According to him, the absence of the law to protect such international plant germplasms from patenting will make India's contention against the new plant variety patent difficult.

In September 1997, the US Patent Office had granted a patent to US firm, Rice Tec Inc, to vend rice under the Basmati name. The patent allows only Rice Tec to sell a new variety of the long-grain, aromatic rice developed by it under the name Basmati both in the country and abroad. Robin D Andrews, chief executive officer, Rice Tec, has claimed that this new variety is an "improvement" over the previous types of basmati and can, therefore, be patented in the line of defence adopted ( Down To Earth , Vol 6, No 20).

Hundreds of angry farmers gathered in New Delhi recently, to protest against the granting of a US patent to sell rice under the Basmati brand. "If we lose our exports and lose whatever tradition and wealth we have, we will soon become a country where every pebble and every stone is owned by somebody else," said Jaya Jetlie, general secretary of Hind Mazdoor Kisan Panchayat, an agricultural labour organisation. The Basmati argument is just the latest in a series of legal battles over India's natural resources, which have included the neem tree and turmeric. Last year, India won a legal battle over the patenting of the healing purposes of turmeric, a popular home remedy.

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