Last week saw the media reporting that the draft Bill providing patent rights to researchers in public-funded projects will now include penalties to check infringement by them.
This reaffirms that instead of addressing concerns of scientists and intellectual property experts on the already controversial Bill, the government is simply moving ahead to finalize a law that affects public welfare and involves taxpayer money without any transparent public debate.
The foremost argument is that this law, the public-funded R&D Bill, is being based on a 1980s US one — the Bayh-Dole Act — that sought to promote transfer of technology from universities to industry, without a sound analysis of the Indian context. Ironically, the necessity of the US law is also being questioned there.
The Bill seeks to get public sector scientists out of their silos, patent their work and let industry commercialize it on revenue-sharing basis. A big problem is that, without understanding the implications, it assumes patenting is the best way to incentivise that research work. This, at a time when the 20-year monopoly rights in the patents regime are being questioned globally even for the private sector.
While there is a definite need to encourage public sector research being better utilized commercially, the Bill needs to include approaches such as open source and non-exclusive licensing.
Apart from this fundamental construct of the Bill, several other concerns have been expressed by experts both in media and in blogsphere. A key one is that the discretion to decide what’s to be patented and what not is entirely to be with IP management cells of the funded institutions — the original researcher gets no say in whether a discovery should be retained in the public domain for further research for the larger good.
That it is moving forward with new clauses also shows that while the government will impose a deterrent on scientists from infringing others’ IP rights within their community, it is not bothered enough to correct ambiguities in the Bill that could well empower the state more than scientists.
What ails public sector research is a deep institutional breakdown — IP rights alone won’t work. The government is acting in undue haste.
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