Four Indian farmers were slapped with (£110,669) Ksh 11,100,000 each on Friday for alleged patent infringement of PepsiCo, an American multinational food, snack, and beverage corporation. The farmers were sued for cultivating FC5 potato variety, grown exclusively for its popular Lay’s potato chips.
PepsiCo, which set up its first potato chips plant in India in 1989, supplies the FC5 potato variety to a group of farmers who in turn sell their products to the company at a fixed price. The company’s Indian subsidiary had filed lawsuits against the farmers earlier in the month.
“We have been growing potatoes for a long time and we didn’t face this problem ever, as we’ve mostly been using the seeds saved from one harvest to plant the next year’s crop,” complained Bipin Patel, one of the four farmers sued by Pepsi.
Rethinking their whole approach to infringement of patent, PepsiCo offered to stop pursuing the four small farmers in India it accuses of illegally growing a variety of potatoes registered for exclusive use in its Lays chips. Pepsi noted that the company will not be seeking any compensation if the farmers agree to the settlement they had to offer.
Upon a court hearing in the Indian state of Gujarat on Friday, a lawyer for PepsiCo offered to drop the case provided the farmers join thousands of others in the company’s authorized cultivation program if the farmers did not wish to grow the FC5 potato variety for PepsiCo.
“That was a discussion that happened in the court today. We told them, why don’t you join our program and we will provide seeds. Either join us or grow other potatoes. That way, we are willing to let go of the case,” said a PepsiCo spokesperson.
In their defense against the suit, Pepsico insisted that their action was purely motivated for the good of thousands of its farmers.
“The company was compelled to take the judicial recourse as a last resort to safeguard the larger interest of thousands of farmers that are engaged with its collaborative potato farming program,” PepsiCo’s spokesperson said.