The U.S. Patent Office has advised RiceTec that it has completed its reexamination of its patent of September 1997 entitled, “Basmati Rice Lines and Grains”, related to the breeding of novel rice lines.  This patent was challenged in April 2000 by a law firm working on behalf of an unnamed third party. 

RiceTec is pleased that the ruling issued August 14, 2001 resolves the dispute favorably for both sides by providing the protection from domestic competitors RiceTec sought for its three basmati varieties while assuring the Indian and Pakistani basmati industry that the patent poses no threat.  Although a number of claims were withdrawn or disallowed during the process, the examiner has confirmed that the claims dealing with the varieties themselves have been upheld and that they satisfy the criteria for patentability.  And, it removes any broad claims which the challengers believed could eventually be used to limit U.S. basmati imports.

It was never the intention of RiceTec to use this patent to restrict importation of basmati rice from India or Pakistan into the United States.  Consequently, in the course of the reexamination, RiceTec withdrew claims in the patent which appeared to include existing varieties.  Although RiceTec wrote the original product definitions in the claims to have no impact on imported products, in view of the difficulties and differences in test methods, the company decided to abandon those claims during the reexamination.  We wished to reinforce our intention that we have no interest in restricting imports.  On the contrary, RiceTec believes that the trade for basmati should be free and competitive and that a competitive market benefits everyone.

Throughout this dispute, it has always been RiceTec’s intention only to protect its varieties and the years of work devoted to creating them.  We feel this latest ruling accomplishes this goal while allaying fears of interruption of trade, an opinion shared by Indian government officials.  Anwil Swarup, chairman of India’s agricultural exports promotion body, was quoted as saying, “The U.S. Patent Office has…restricted the patent to only those three rice strains which don’t impinge upon India’s interest in exporting basmati rice to the United States.”

Despite some critics continuing the dispute in order to further their own political agendas, others have understood the beneficial ruling.  Raman Singh, state minister for commerce and industry, was quoted as saying, “The decision of the USPTO in respect of the said patent signals a victory for India.  Fears expressed on this issue were unfounded and misplaced.”  Indeed, no less a critic than outspoken activist Vandana Shiva of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in New Delhi has proclaimed “the farmers have won.”