India: Biological Diversity Act, 2002 And Patenting Of Biological Inventions In India – Part I (Section – 6)

Last Updated: 27 April 2017
Article by Amitavo Mitra

The Biological Diversity Act of 2002 (BDA) is a piece of Indian legislation which came into being in response to compliance with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to which India is a ratified member. In fact, India has taken the lead among developing and developed nations both in introducing a substantive legislation in conformance with the objectives of the CBD.

The objective of the BDA is broadly to conserve India's biological diversity, ensure sustainable use of its biological resources, and ensure equitable sharing of benefits arising out of use of its biological resources. Though the BDA came into being in 2002, it was only in 2004 when the Rules were notified, hence, for all practical purposes, the effective implementation date of the BDA is 2004.

The BDA, in general, quite broadly covers access and use of biological resources occurring in India or knowledge associated thereto for various purposes, be it for research or commercial activity, by Indian citizens or non-citizens alike, in India or abroad.

Recognizing the importance of IPR, the BDA makes special mention of the application of the provisions of the BDA to IPR in Section 61. A careful reading of Section 6 reveals the truly wide mandate of the BDA with regard to IPR. Firstly, it is to be noted that Section 6 is not limited to Indian citizens or Indian residents (as defined in the Income Tax Act, 1961). The term "no person" used in Section 6, sub-clause 1 can be broadly interpreted to include any natural or legal person irrespective of nationality. Secondly, the application of the law is extra-territorial in that it is applicable upon IPR laws of other foreign countries also. Thirdly, it is interesting to note that the scope of the said section is not merely limited to biological material "occurring" in India. In fact, the term used is "obtained" from India, which is suggestive in its broadest implication that even exotic material would be within the ambit as long as it is obtained from India.

The language of Section 6 of the BDA leaves open a lot of questions, many of which have no definitive answers due to lack of any judicial precedents established by the judiciary of India. For instance, Section 6 states that permission of the NBA is required when IPR is applied for research or information based on a biological resource obtained from India. There is lack of clarity as to how the NBA will construe the scope of "obtained"? As the objective of the NBA is to safeguard Indian biodiversity, will "obtaining" be limited to only those biological resources which are literally sourced from within India? What about Indian biological material sourced in India but subsequently exported, and obtained elsewhere (outside of India)? Alternatively, does the term "obtained" necessarily mean that the biological resource shall also be found to be "occurring" in India? Does "occurring" mean only indigenous biological resources which are sufficiently distinct compared to their foreign counterparts? Or will it include biological resource of foreign origin which is also found in India regardless of any distinctive trait? How does one determine any time frame after which a biological resource can be considered to be "occurring" in India?

In another instance, Section 6 clearly states that no application for IPR rights is to be filed in any foreign country without prior NBA approval. The first proviso provides that in the event an application is filed, NBA permission may be obtained after the acceptance of the patent but before patent grant by the patent authority concerned. An obvious question here is whether the foreign patent office is legally bound to keep the patent grant in abeyance until NBA approval is provided?

In yet another instance, as per Section 6, the term "no person" is used. While it is clear that the term includes any Indian citizen, or a resident of India (as defined in the Income Tax Act, 1961), does it cover a foreign national operating outside India? A casual reading of the statute would suggest so, however, it puts an unnecessary burden on such a particular group to comply with Indian laws, which they may be contravening without their knowledge! This would make the jurisdictional reach of Act worldwide, whereas Section 1(2) clearly states that the Act extends to the whole of India and not elsewhere!

The definition of "biological resource" can be found in Section 2(c)2 of the BDA. It may be appreciated that the definition is quite broad, while specifically excluding value added products3 and human genetic material. It is quite clear from the definition in Section 2(c) that the legislation is principally directed towards patenting of biological inventions, which puts an additional burden, largely regulatory in nature, on the Applicant to comply with.

The gravity of non-compliance with Section 6 of the BDA can be appreciated from Sections 55(1)4, 575 and Section 586 of the Act. Briefly, under Section 55(1) and 57, the punishment for contravention of Section 6 is imprisonment for a term of up to 5 years, or a fine of up to INR 10,00,000 or more, or both. Under Section 58, such offences are cognizable and non-bailable. This is of particular significance in that the police, upon a complaint, can arrest the person concerned without prior Judge order, and bail is not a matter of right, but at the discretion of the Judge!

Under current Indian Patent Office (IPO) practice, it is observed that for patent applications, which disclose any biological material, in the First Examination Report (FER), it is almost routine to come across an objection requiring clarification as to furnishing of NBA approval in the case of use of any biological resource obtained from India. As mentioned previously, as per Section 6 of the NBA, grant of the patent would be kept in abeyance until proof of NBA approval is provided. It should be pointed out that for patenting purposes, the application of provisions of the NBA as per the IPO is not limited merely to claimed biological resource. Instead, it encompasses use of any such resource or knowledge thereof in any part of the application. For instance, use of any biological resource for validation purposes of a claimed product would fall within the ambit of NBA!

In the case of national phase or convention applications deriving priority from a foreign country, typically a declaration may be provided stating that no biological resource obtained from India has been used in the invention. Understandably, it may be difficult for an Indian applicant to do so.

Interestingly, it is to be noted while the IPO does not require evidence of compliance with any other law of the land prior to grant of patents, it particularly requires compliance with the BDA! This "cooperation" between the IPO and the NBA is admirable in that it represents a cooperation between two different ministries, namely, The Ministry of Environment and Forests under which the NBA is a statutory autonomous body, and The Ministry of Commerce and Industry (Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, under which the Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trademark functions.

In conclusion, under current IPO practice regime, any Applicant using any biological resource (as defined under Section 2(c) of the BDA) is suggested that he seek NBA clearance at the earliest instance in order to ensure a timely and smooth prosecution progress.

In the next part of this article, provisions of the BDA with respect to access of biological resources by Indian citizens or non-citizens, and sharing of research results generated from such biological resources will be elucidated and discussed.

Footnotes

1Section 6 of BDA: (1)" No person shall apply for any intellectual property right, by whatever name called, in or outside India for any invention based on any research or information on a biological resource obtained from India without obtaining the previous approval of the National Biodiversity Authority before making such application

Provided that if a person applies for a patent, permission of the National Biodiversity Authority may be obtained after the acceptance of the patent but before the seating of tile patent by the patent authority concerned

Provided further that the National Biodiversity Authority shall dispose of the application for permission made to it within a period of ninety days from the date of receipt thereof".

(2) "The National Biodiversity Authority may, while granting the approval under this section, impose benefit sharing fee or royalty or both or impose conditions including the sharing of financial benefits arising out of the commercial utilization of such rights".

(3) "The provisions of this section shall not apply to any person making an application for any right under any law relating to protection of plant varieties enacted by Parliament".

(4) "Where any right is granted under law referred to in sub-section (3), the concerned authority granting such right shall endorse a copy of such document granting the right to the National Biodiversity Authority".

2Section 2(c) of BDA: "biological resources" means plants, animals and micro-organisms or parts thereof, their genetic material and by-products (excluding value added products) with actual or potential use or value, but does not include human genetic material.

3Section 2(p) of BDA: "value added products" means products which may contain portions or extracts of plants and animals in unrecognizable and physically inseparable form.

4Section 55(1) of BDA: "Whoever contravenes or to or abets the contravention of the provisions of section 3 or section 4 or section 6 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees and where the damage caused exceeds tend lakh rupees such fine may commensurate with the damage caused, or with both".

5Section 57 of BDA: (1) "Where an offence or contravention under this Act has been committed by a company, every person who at the time the offence or contravention was committed was in charge of, and was responsible to, the company for the conduct of the business of the company, as well as the company, shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence or contravention and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly: Provided that nothing contained in this sub-section shall render any such person liable to any punishment provided in this Act, if he proves that the offence or contravention was committed without his knowledge or that he had exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence or contravention".

(2) "Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), where an offence or contravention under this Act has been committed by a company and it is proved that the offence or contravention has been committed with the consent or connivance of, or is attributable to, any neglect on the part of any director, manager, secretary or other officer of the company, such director, manager, secretary or other officer shall also be deemed to be guilty of the offence or contravention and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly".

6Section 58 of BDA: "The offences under this Act shall be cognizable and non-bailable".

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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