Dr R.A. Mashelkar, former director-general of Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, is a troubled man these days. Battling charges of plagiarism in his latest report on patentability of new drugs and micro-organisms, the technocrat claims he has already done what he could (withdrawing the report) and the ball was now in the government’s court. Excerpts from Mashelkar’s conversation with Mint where he talked about what’s wrong with his report and what’s not:
Has the department of industrial policy and promotion responded to your letter where you had offered to re-submit the report in three months? How do you react to the demands that the technical committee, chaired by you, be scrapped and replaced by a joint parliamentary committee?
I have not received any response from the department so far. As for the demands being made by various groups, I’ll leave that to the government. It’s their call. Since they are the ones who set up the committee, they will decide what to do with the committee.
Were you aware that the Intellectual Property report was commissioned by Interpat, which in turn is funded in part by Swiss drug maker Novartis AG?
Obviously, not. To us, it was an IP Institute study. Also, I have just received a letter from Dr Paul Leonard, director of this IP Institute in which he has expressed concern over the furore being created about their report in India. He has written to me that he had taken allegations of bias against a study from his institute, very seriously since it impinged on the quality and independence of their work.
The letter states that Interpat is not an industrial think tank but an independent not-for-profit research body that has a history of independent and unbiased studies. It was a report done by someone from the University of Oxford. How is one to know?
If you submit a revised version of the report, would the basic tenor of the report’s recommendations change or would you stick to the current stance?
Can’t say. Let’s first see what the government does. Thereafter, the committee members (four others besides Mashelkar) will have to meet. We haven’t even had our first meeting after the decision to withdraw the report. But I stand by its findings 100%.
You could have merely made the necessary attributions to the report. Why did you take the extreme step of withdrawing it?
I did what a scientist does. I withdrew it and offered to re-examine it. I was heartbroken as this had never happened in 12 committees that I have chaired. There is a lesson to be learnt here and I’ll be using software applications to check for such verbatim lifts from other reports in the future.
Other people have also asked me if I over-reacted or done things differently. The answer is no. Actually, the report from which we have been accused of plagiarising, is mentioned in the Annexure to the report; so it’s not plagiarism per se. As part of our basic principles as scientists, we don’t copy verbatim. That’s it.
How does the committee work?
We are a five-member committee. Our job is merely to decide two aspects of the Indian patent act’s compatibility with TRIPS (Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property rightS) obligations. One, whether it would be TRIPS compatible to limit the grant of patent for pharmaceutical substance to new chemical entity or to new medical entity involving one or more inventive steps. Secondly, whether it would be TRIPS compatible to exclude micro-organisms from patenting. We study submissions from a wide range of society: patent lawyers, pharma companies, research groups. All deliberations that occur are recorded in the minutes of the meeting. All these, including the conclusions are sent to the drafting committee, which prepares the final document.
How do you respond to the allegations that the technical committee went beyond its terms of reference?
We did not do any such thing. (I) Don’t agree to that.
You met minister Kapil Sibal after the plagiarism charges erupted. What did he say?
We discussed a host of other issues. I can’t comment on them.