Understanding the limits of patentability is vital as innovation continues to change the world. The non-patentable categories of innovations are specified in Section 3 of the Patents Act,1970, which serves as a gatekeeper.

This section deals with how to strike a balance between innovation and safeguarding of public interests. From innovations that violate public morals or order to simple discoveries of scientific principles or even traditional knowledge.

In this blog, we will explore Section 3(h) and its ramifications on inventors, enterprises, and the overall intellectual property environment. Learn the reasoning for the exclusion of the subject area from patent protection and how this Section affects the structure of the patent system.

What is the Section 3(h) of the Patents Act, 1970?

The Patents Act of 1970 has a vital section specifying the patentable subject matter. We will go into the nuances of Section 3(h) of the Patent Act of 1970, and how it affects the Indian patent system in this blog segment.

Section 3(h) of the Patents Act, 1970 excludes “a method of agriculture or horticulture” from patentability.

This provision serves to safeguard the preservation of traditional farming and breeding practices within the public domain, preventing their exclusive appropriation through the granting of patents.

It is crucial to acknowledge that this clause does not encompass the entirety of agricultural or horticultural inventions, thereby allowing for potential patentability.

Exploring Non-Patentable Subject Matter under Section 3(h): Understanding the Provision and Exclusions.

The significance of Section 3(h) of the Patents Act, 1970 in determining the scope of patentable subject matter cannot be overstated. It specifies the exclusions of agricultural and horticultural innovations. To better comprehend this provision and its ramifications, it is essential to scrutinize the examples provided in the manual of patent office practice and procedure, version 3.0, dated 26 November 2019

Agriculture and horticulture-related techniques are among the main groups of non-patentable ones listed in Section 3(h). These procedures include customary agricultural methods, cultivation strategies, or approaches for plant breeding. The goal of excluding certain techniques is to protect the free interchange of ideas and guarantee that farmers may use crucial agricultural processes without being constrained by patents.

According to Section 3(h), the following examples of agricultural and horticultural inventions are not patentable:

  • This refers to conventional agricultural techniques on open fields that are not eligible for patent protection.
  • Asexual methods of plant propagation: This exclusion applies to inventions relating to the asexual reproduction of plants, such as cloning or grafting.
  • The method cannot be patented even if a plant is grown in modified conditions, such as a greenhouse.
  • Techniques involving soil remediation with substances such as nematodes or phosphorus thioates for improving soil condition cannot be patented.
  • Method of mushroom production or algae production: Inventions relating to the cultivation or production of mushrooms or algae are not patentable.
  • Techniques involving the cultivation of phytoplankton, regardless of the specific method employed, are not patentable.
  • A method of growing leguminous plants as intercropping to improve the soil’s fertility – One way to enhance soil fertility by increasing nitrogen levels is to cultivate leguminous plants as intercrops is also patent ineligible under Section 3(h). 
  • Even the method of removal of weeds is deemed ineligible for patent protection due to its association with plant cultivation.

Section 3(h) interpretation may change based on court rulings and guidelines.

However, one may consider filing patent applications for herbicide formulations and biological agents if they meet patentability requirements. Analyzing the innovative components is crucial for patent suitability.

Recent Case Law Analysis: Interpreting Section 3(h) of the Patents Act, 1970, in the Decco Worldwide Case

The Decco Worldwide Post Harvest Holdings B.V & Anr case has clarified how to interpret and use Section 3(h) of the Patents Act, 1970. In this case, they were questioning whether Section 3(h) of the patent law would allow them to patent a process that utilizes a particular substance to extend the shelf life of fruits by preventing fungal growth.

In its July 29, 2021 ruling, the Calcutta High Court examined the parameters of Section 3(h) and whether it applied to the in-question approach. The court cited prior case law and legislative purpose to interpret the clause. Section 3(h) prohibits the patentability of agricultural or horticultural technologies, thus keeping conventional farming techniques in the public domain.

Important Observations Made During The Case

The Court noted that the technique in issue, which entailed spraying bananas with a particular composition to control a fungal disease in bananas, did not belong to the category of horticulture or agricultural operations. The procedure only made one technological or innovative step: applying a composition to prevent or control the fungus black sigatoka. As a result, the Court came to the conclusion that Section 3(h) did not apply to the approach.

The Court emphasized the fact that Sections 3(h) and 3(i) cover different categories of inventions. Section 3(h) prohibits patenting a method of agriculture or horticulture that does not contemplate treating plants to render them disease-free. In contrast, Section 3(i) deals with the process of treatment or prevention. Further, Amendment 38 of 2002 amended Section 3(i) of the Act to remove “or plants” from its scope. 

In the impugned order, the Court observed that the Controller failed to explain why the subject patent application falls within the purview of “agricultural method.” In fact, no reasons have been given by the Controller as to why a method of treatment of plants to treat fungal diseases would fall within section 3(h), which covers traditional methods of agriculture.

The Controller has also failed to explain why preventing illness or treatment would fall under agriculture. It is evident from section 3(i) of the Act that the treatment of plants does not fall within the purview of non-patentability, and the Manual, being a mere guiding factor to the statutory provisions of the Act, cannot have an overriding effect over the Act.

Overall Verdict

The Court stated that the Controller has simply considered the finding that the subject invention falls within the definition of “agriculture” without dealing with the appellants’ submissions. The Court further stressed the fact that reasons are the foundation of any order passed by any judicial or quasi-judicial authority. The main objective of providing reasons in any order is to clarify to the reader and to understand why and how the Authority has proceeded and dealt with the matter.

Understanding Section 3(h) parameters is crucial for patent protection in agriculture/horticulture. The simple application of well-known compositions or processes to agricultural activities does not meet patentability requirements, as reiterated.

The Decco Worldwide verdict sets a precedent for future instances regarding the patentability of techniques that fall under the coverage of Section 3(h) in an active tone.

Guidance for Handling the Section 3(h): Objections in Light of Diverse Interpretations

The Patents Act, 1970 excludes agriculture/horticulture processes from patent protection under Section 3(h). This provision balances innovation and accessibility for agricultural methods.

Nevertheless, there has been much disagreement and controversy around the definition of agricultural or horticultural methods. This resulted in varying interpretations and difficulties in the process of patent enforcement.

Navigating Objections in the Fields of Agriculture and Horticulture:

1. Focus on Specific Inventive Elements:

The main focus should be on identifying and analyzing unique creative elements. Emphasize inventive components when addressing Section 3(h) objections.

Innovation in agriculture that surpasses conventional approaches cultivation techniques, and incorporates specialized instruments.

2. Emphasize Technical Advancements:

It is important to underscore the technological improvements to effectively demonstrate the claimed invention’s non-obviousness. The innovation goes beyond traditional agriculture and represents a technological solution to a specific challenge.

3. Leverage Ancillary Processes or Products:

Auxiliary processes linked to agriculture/horticulture techniques may be patentable. It’s possible to highlight new components addressing Section 3(h) objections, such as substrates, compositions, or pest control methods.

4. Comparative study:

Compare with traditional methods to highlight technical and inventive ingenuity achieved through human intervention. This analysis can demonstrate the innovation’s effectiveness, productivity, or ecological benefits, making it more eligible for patent protection.

Conclusion

Section 3(h) of the Patents Act, 1970 requires a strategic approach to agriculture and horticulture. According to the law, agriculture and horticulture are not eligible for patent protection. You can achieve the safeguarding of distinctive farming tools.

Patent practitioners and applicants may effectively address the obstacles Section 3(h) presents via several strategies. Ways to enhance include creative emphasis, technological breakthroughs, supplementary processes, comparative analysis, and legal advice. 

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