Activists and farmers' organizations in India vowed to defend several farmers accused in court of growing a trademarked variety of potatoes with out the consent of PepsiCo., the trademark's owner.
CNN Business reported Thursday that the company is seeking nearly $150,000 each from four Indian farmers accused of growing the spuds, which are exclusively used by the company for its Lays potato chips.
Local activists argue that the rural farmers were unaware of the trademark and their legal rights in the matter, and reportedly accused PepsiCo. of sending private investigators posing as buyers to the farms.
"We believe that the intimidation and legal harassment of farmers is happening because farmers are not fully aware of [their] rights," several farmers' associations wrote to the Indian government in a letter published this week, according to CNN.
"We will fight it out, no matter how big the company," Kapil Shah, a spokesman for advocacy group Jatan told CNN. "Pepsi has made a huge mistake."
PepsiCo. confirmed the lawsuits in a statement to CNN, while not commenting on the allegations raised by the activists.
"PepsiCo is India's largest process grade potato buyer and amongst the first companies to work with thousands of local farmers to grow a specific protected variety of potatoes for it," an India-based spokesperson for PepsiCo. told CNN Business. "In this instance, we took judicial recourse against people who were illegally dealing in our registered variety."