PepsiCo Inc has sued four Indian farmers for cultivating a potato variety that the snack food and drinks maker claims infringe its patent, the company and the growers said on Friday.
Pepsi has sued the farmers for cultivating the FC5 potato variety, exclusively grown for its popular Lay's potato chips. The FC5 variety has a lower moisture content required to make snacks such as potato chips.
PepsiCo is seeking more than 10 million rupees ($142,840.82) each for alleged patent infringement.
The farmers grow potatoes in the western state of Gujarat, a leading producer of India's most consumed vegetable.
"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," said Bipin Patel, one of the four farmers sued by Pepsi.
Patel did not say how he came by the PepsiCo variety.
A court in Ahmedabad, the business hub of Gujarat, on Friday agreed to hear the case on June 12, said Anand Yagnik, the lawyer for the farmers.
"PepsiCo India has proposed to amicably settle with people who were unlawfully using seeds of its registered variety. PepsiCo has also proposed that they may become part of its collaborative potato farming program. This program gives them access to higher yields, enhanced quality, training in best-in-class practices and better prices. In case, they do not wish to join this program, they can simply sign an agreement and grow other available varieties of potatoes. It is significant to note that the company's collaborative potato farming program is best in class and is built on strong backward and forward linkages that improve livelihoods by using protected seeds," a PepsiCo spokesperson said.
"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 India remains deeply committed to resolving the matter and ensuring adoption of best farming practices," the company spokesperson further added.
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 All India Kisan Sabha, or All India Farmers' Forum, has asked the Indian government to protect the farmers.
The farmers' forum has also called for a boycott of PepsiCo's Lay's chips and the company's other products.
The Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
PepsiCo is the second major U.S. company in India to face issues over patent infringement.
Stung by a long-standing intellectual property dispute, seed maker Monsanto, which is now owned by German drugmaker Bayer AG, withdrew from some businesses in India over a cotton-seed dispute with farmers, Reuters reported in 2017.